Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
International picture books with English translations are good choices for sharing with students at all grade levels. Here are some of our favorites with 2023 U.S. publication dates that introduce young people to writers and artists from around the world and encourage discussion about other languages and cultures—as well as universal themes.
Afterward, Everything Was Different: A Tale of the Pleistocene. Jairo Buitrago. Trans. by Elisa Amado. Illus. by Rafael Yockteng. (2023). Aldana Libros.
Wordless, panoramic double-page spreads tell a story of a Pleistocene clan as they hunt for bison, face attacks from predators, and find a cave in which to shelter when winter comes. Left alone while everyone else goes hunting, a young girl takes a charred stick and draws pictures on the cave walls depicting events in their journey, and upon the clan’s return, she has a story to tell. A final page of text about the girl’s cave art begins with “The cave was different afterward.” It ends with “The marks she made were never erased. As time went by, she became the leader of the clan.” Jairo Buitrago’s words will have readers going back to Rafael Yockteng’s black-and-white drawings in graphite and white ink. Each rereading reveals more details of this engaging “tale of the Pleistocene.” Back matter provides information on cave art. Jairo Buitrago lives in Mexico; Rafael Yockteng lives in Colombia. (Gr 3 Up)
The Bear and the Wildcat. Kazumi Yumoto. Trans. by Cathy Hirano. Illus. by Komako Sakai. (2023). Gecko.
When his best friend, a little bird, dies, Bear makes a beautiful box for him and carries it everywhere. Upon seeing the contents of the box, the other forest animals all say, “It may be hard, but you have to forget about him.” Bear retreats to his home and mourns alone until, on a walk one sunny day, he meets a wildcat with an odd-shaped box. The wildcat agrees to show him its contents if he can see what is in Bear’s box. Upon viewing the dead bird, the wildcat comments that he must have been a very special friend who is missed. After helping to bury the little bird, the wildcat takes a violin from his box and says, “Let me play a song for you and your little friend.” Komako Sakai adds touches of pink to the somber black-and-white drawings as Bear recalls memories of his little friend and begins to heal. Kazumi Yumoto lives in Japan; Komako Sakai lives in Japan. (PreK-Gr 2)
Bear Is Never Alone. Marc Veerkamp. Trans. by Laura Watkinson. Illus. by Jeska Verstegen. (2023). Eerdmans.
The music of piano virtuoso Bear is so beautiful that all the forest animals, even the birds, are silent during his concert. Each time Bear stops playing, he hears, “More, more, Piano Bear!” Bear runs away seeking a break but is pursued by his audience and their continual cries for more songs. Finally, he’s had enough. His “BIG ROOOOAAAAR” frightens his audience away, and Bear finds himself alone—except for a lone zebra. Zebra wants to do something nice of him in appreciation for his beautiful music, but Bear rejects her offer to read him a story, saying he just wants to be alone. As Zebra departs, Bear realizes that listening to a good story might be nice and suggests, “Let’s be alone together.” Jeska Verstegen’s black-and-white illustrations featuring the huge black Bear and his grand piano include just a few touches of red such as Zebra’s book. Marc Veerkamp lives in the Netherlands; Jeska Verstegen lives in the Netherlands. (PreK Up)
The Cat, the Owl and the Fresh Fish. Nadine Robert. Trans. by Nick Frost & Catherine Ostium. Illus. by Sang Miao. (2023). Milky Way Picture Books.
On his daily trip to his favorite fishing spot, Gray Cat discovers a rowboat with a basket of fresh fish anchored in the center of the small pond. A nearby owl, whose claw is trapped under a log, says he knows who owns the boat and can help Cat (who does not want to get wet) get the fresh fish before the boat’s owner returns. Cat uses Owl’s suggestions of a rock, red bucket, and stepping stones to approach the boat before, in an unexpected twist, after he grabs the log, the freed owl stretches his wings (shown in a magnificent double gatefold) and seizes the basket of fresh fish. This clever fable featuring anthropomorphic Cat and Owl in Sang Miao’s charming illustrations rendered in gouache, watercolor, and pencil gently hints that brains and patience can outsmart greed. Nadine Robert lives in Quebec, Canada; Sang Miao lives in China. (PreK-Gr 2)
Fish and Crab. Marianna Coppo. Trans. by Debbie Bibo. (2023). Chronicle.
All is quiet in the aquarium where best friends Fish and Crab live together. It is bedtime. Crab falls asleep immediately while Fish’s fears of strange noises, interlopers, and illness grow to include terror of alien abduction and lots of other unlikely what-if scenarios that keep him unable to fall asleep and continually waking up Crab. Finally, Crab encourages him to share ALL of these anxieties at once over a cup of herbal tea so they can both go to sleep. Now unburdened, Fish nods off leaving Crab wide awake in the dark. Spare dialogue is strategically placed on pages with the colorful characters in their beds against a white background for lights-on scenes and in a grayscale palette for lights-off scenes presents a reassuring—and humorous—story perfect for bedtime or story time sharing. Marianna Coppo lives in Italy. (PreK-Gr 2)
How Are You?: A Book About Feelings. Édouard Manceau. Trans. by Wendeline A. Hardenberg. (2023). Twirl.
“How are you?” The child narrator in this board book responds with “Oh, it depends on the day.” Matte black pages feature text descriptors in white print on subsequent verso pages: “Sometimes I’m very well” and “Other times, not so much” (followed by 11 different words expressing emotions throughout the remainder of the book including sad, annoyed, angry, feeling empty, and sleepy.) On each opposing page is a face drawn with expressive facial features such as teary eyes, furrowed brows, a smiley mouth, and flushed cheeks. After working through a cycle of emotions including feeling empty inside after a crying jag and awakening from a little nap feeling better, the child answers the “How are you?” question with “I’m very well”--and follows up with “How are YOU?” This gentle story encourages young children to identify and express their emotions through words. The message? It is okay to feel strongly, and everything will be okay. Édouard Manceau lives in France. (PreS Up)
The Moon Tonight: Our Moon’s Journey Around Earth. Jung Chang-hoon. Trans. by Paige Morris. Illus. by Jang Ho. (2023). Blue Dot.
Observing Earth’s closest celestial neighbor is a common experience for cultures around the world. In this astronomy-detailed story, a father and daughter learn about the waxing and waning of the moon, its four phases (crescent, quarter, full, and new) during its 29-and-a-half-day lunar cycle, and its effect on ebb and flow tides. Astronomer Jung Chang-hoon’s lyrical and informational narrative is complemented by Jang Ho’s exquisite sepia- and gray-toned paintings on single- and double-page spreads, some with insets of illustrations and scientific descriptions in smaller print. This book is a good choice for reading in STEM classrooms as well as for curious sky-gazing families to share. Back matter includes “Things to Know About the Moon” with photos and a Korean proverb: “You’ve been waiting since the early evening to see the dawn Moon.” Jung Chang-hoon lives in South Korea; Jang Ho lives in South Korea. (PreK Up)
Some Do, Some Don’t. Dipacho. Trans. by Octavia Saenz. (2023). mineditionUS.
With a spare text and beautiful watercolor illustrations of the jabiru, the largest member of the stork family with its majestic white body and black neck with a red throat pouch, author-illustrator Dipacho explores the characteristics of families and individuals with contrasting statements such as “Some of us enjoy a crowd, and others like being alone.” The thought-provoking ending of this picture book—“Some of us fly off and follow our own paths. Actually, we all do.”—encourages conversation about the diversity of family relationships of the featured bird, the jabiru, that also applies to how humans live with each other. The informative end note about jabirus may also inspire readers to find out more about this “great stork of the New World.” Dipacho lives in Colombia. (PreK Up)
Tap! Tap! Tap!: Dance! Dance! Dance! Hervé Tullet. Trans. by Christopher Franceschelli. (2023). Chronicle.
In his latest innovative picture book, Hervé Tullet, the creator of Press Here! (2011) and Mix It Up! (2014) and other playful interactive picture books, directs the young reader to place their hand on the blue handprint on the first page, wiggle their fingers gently to warm them up, and then explore color, form, and movement as they follow the narrator’s directions to use their hand to dance across the pages of this oversize book. After tap, tap, tapping on circles; “whooshing” in a circle around the edge of a double-page spread; making “loop the loops,” circles, and spirals by following and jumping around the bold forms in primary colors, the reader is invited to start all over again! Hervé Tullet lives in France. (PreS Up)
We Are Lions! Jens Mattsson. Trans. by B. J. Woodstein. Illus. by Jenny Lucander. (2023). Groundwood.
The child narrator tells how he and his older brother play at being lions as they hunt, stalk, and laze in a lion heap in the make-believe savannah outside their home. One day, big brother has a stomach ache, and Dad takes him to the doctor. When he returns home, young brother tries to entertain him by growling, roaring, clawing, and pouncing, but soon big brother is admitted to the hospital where his medicine makes him lose his “lion’s mane.” Young brother knows his brother does not want to be trapped by wires and tubes, so he sneaks him into a wheelchair for a hunting adventure through the hospital “savannah” until his IV gets caught on a door handle. Big brother is returned to his bed and comforted by little brother’s “Soon we’ll go hunting again.” Expressive illustrations, created with line drawings, watercolors, and digital collage, capture the touching story of a brother using imagination and love to negotiate his way through his sibling’s life-threatening illness. Jens Mattsson lives in Sweden; Jenny Lucander lives in Finland. (PreK Up)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
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These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).