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International Children’s Books

By Laura Cutler and Carolyn Angus
 | Apr 02, 2018

Sponsored annually by the International Board on Books for Young People, International Children’s Book Day is celebrated on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, April 2, to inspire a love of reading and to spotlight children’s books around the world. The theme of this year’s celebration is “The small is big in a book.” In recognition, we reviewed the following new works of international literature.

Ages 4–8

Aquarium. Cynthia Alonso. 2018. Chronicle.

AquariumIn Argentinian artist Cynthia Alonso’s wordless picture book (originally published in Portugal), a young girl ventures to a dock and gazes into the water below. Vibrant shades of blue set against soft pastels create visual symmetry between the protagonist and the surrounding water. A red fish, colored to match the fish printed on the girl’s dress, unexpectedly leaps onto the dock and the girl decides to take it home. There, she creates an elaborate system of waterways for the fish from various sized containers and tubes. Her construction plans take over the house, but she eventually realizes that the fish belongs back in the water—not in the living room! With a nod to the happiness that can be found by letting go, the back endpaper offers a satisfying conclusion to the story with the depiction of the girl and fish swimming together. 

Get on Your Bike. Joukje Akveld. Trans. Laura Watkinson. Ill. Philip Hopman. 2018. Eerdmans.

Get On Your BikeAn argument between best friends Bobby (a panda) and William (a dog) ends with William shouting, “Go on! Just get on your bike and leave!” And that’s just what Bobby does. He rides through busy city streets still fuming over his squabble with “buffle-brained” William. Riding into the countryside, Bobby calms down and begins to think about where to go and what to do next. Decision made, he speedily cycles back to William’s home. After an exchange of apologies, Bobby begins to think about a bike ride with William the next day. The text for this oversized picture book (originally published in The Netherlands) appears in small boxes in the upper left of each colorful, richly detailed double-page spread. It’s fun—and not so easy—to spot Bobby in his red hoodie on each page.

Herodotus the Hedgehog. Jean-Luc Buquet. 2018. Eerdmans.

HerodotusAfter witnessing Bear worshipping the Mighty Bear Spirit, Herodotus, a curious hedgehog, wants to know if other animals have their own Great Spirits. After Fox tells him about the Great Fox, Herodotus visits Venerable, the old and wise hedgehog, and asks about the Great Spirit stories of hedgehogs. Venerable explains to Herodotus that, as humble creatures, hedgehogs know only one important fact:"that the sun rises and sets each day.” Herodotus is underwhelmed by Venerable’s teachings, and continues to ask other animals, including Weasel, Sheep, Wolf, and Hoopoe, about Great Spirits. Confused, he contemplates what he has heard. When Venerable joins him, his “I understand, I think. Let’s go see the sunset,” suggests he’s discovered the importance of appreciating each new day as it comes. Originally published in French, this thought-provoking story will leave readers contemplating their own beliefs about life’s big questions and remind them of the significance of appreciating what life has to offer.

I Really Want to See You, Grandma. Taro Gomi. 2018. Chronicle.

I Really Want to See You, GrandmaIn this tale (translated from Japanese) about the power of love and determination, Yumi and her grandmother each set off to visit each other. As they arrive at their destinations, each discovers that her loved one is not home. Nothing will stop Yumi and her grandmother from seeing each other, so they continue to go back and forth, unknowingly passing each other on the way. This humorous story, told through simple text and colorful illustrations, portrays Yumi and her grandmother employing various modes of transport to reach one another—including bus, train, taxi, scooter, and even grandma on a motorcycle! Finally, Yumi and her grandmother run into each other on their travels and, to avoid future confusion, decide to designate a tree that is growing along the road as their special meeting spot.

Old Hat. Emily Gravett. 2018. Simon & Schuster.

Old HatHarbet, a big-eyed, long-nosed, waggy-tailed dog, loved the warm and cozy hat that his Nana knitted for him, but, as a dinosaur, bear, and bird sporting Carmen Miranda-styled hats point out, his hat is an OLD HAT! So Harbet gets one of these “latest, most up-to-datest” hats, only to learn that the fashionistas have moved on. Determined to have the latest hat, Harbet reads Top Hat Magazine and is first in line at the hat shop on Hat Unveiling Day. Having amassed a pile of new but already declared out-of-fashion hats, Harbet decides to do something daring—go hatless. The surprise ending reveals that Harbet has become the new trendsetter. Gravett’s latest picture book, with humorous, hat-filled illustrations (rendered in pencil, watercolor, and acrylic ink), offers a gentle lesson: Doing your own thing is always in style.

On the Other Side of the Garden. Jairo Buitrago. Trans. Elisa Amado. Ill. Rafael Yockteng. 2018. Groundwood/House of Anansi.

On the Other Side of the GardenMexican writer Jairo Buitrago’s spare text and Columbian artist Rafael Yockteng’s detailed, textured, digital illustrations tell the story of city girl Isabel, who has been left by her father at Grandmother’s house out in the country. As she joins three animals (an owl, a frog, and a mouse) on a moonlit walk in the garden, Isabel tells them that Mum lives in another country and that Dad has left her with Grandmother while he looks for work. They tell her that her grandmother is lonely and kind. Returning home, Isabel is greeted with a hug and reassurance that she can walk in the garden anytime. “This is your house, too.” There is the hope that Isabel will adapt to the reality of separation from her parents as she lives with Grandmother and explores beyond the fence around the garden.  

Who Was That? Olivier Tallec. 2018. Chronicle.

Who Was ThatFans, young and old, of French author-illustrator Olivier Tallec’s Who Done It? (2015) and Who What Where? (2016) will be delighted to test their observation and memory skills in his new interactive picture book. After following a direction such as “Now, cover Roger—he’s on the diving board—with your hand,” the reader is asked a question. In this case, it’s “How many teeth does he have?” The answer: three. Readers soon realize that they need to carefully observe the cartoon-like illustrations if they are to have a chance at answering the questions posed. Older children can extend the fun of Who Was That? by making up their own questions about the illustrations to test the memory of a reading buddy.

Ages 9–11

The Land of Neverendings. Kate Saunders. 2018. Delacorte/Random House.

The Land of NeverendingsWhen Holly died, Emily not only lost her sister—she lost her connection to their imagined toy world, Smockeroon, the Land of Neverendings. Emily begins to have fantastical dreams and visions about Holly’s beloved stuffed animal, Bluey, and of the imaginary world of Smockeroon. Soon Emily realizes that these fantasies are real and that the magic of Smockeroon is seeping into the human world—leaving the toy world in a state of unrest. When those around her are also affected by Smockeroon’s magic, Emily knows she must do something to restore the balance between the two worlds. English author Kate Saunders takes readers on an unforgettable adventure as Emily and her friends try to save Smockeroon from certain disaster. This story presents an honest depiction of the grief experienced after losing a loved one and helps young readers see that happiness can be found even in times of tremendous sorrow.

The Rabbit and the Shadow. Mélanie Rutten. Trans. Sarah Ardizzone. 2018. Eerdmans.

The Rabbit and the ShadowThis French import is the story of “a Rabbit who wants to grow up, / an anxious Stag, / a Soldier at war, / a Cat who keeps having the same dream, / a Book who wants to know everything, / and a Shadow.”  With 10 short episodes and colorful, expressive ink-and-watercolor illustration (from small vignettes to full-page spreads), Belgium artist-illustrator Mélanie Rutten weaves together the stories of these characters into a complex tale of adventure, growing up, emotions, and dreams with a warm and satisfying ending.

Ages 12–14

The Book of Pearl. Timothée de Fombelle. Trans. Sarah Ardizzone & Sam Gordon. 2018. Candlewick.

The Book of PearlThis extraordinary fantasy chronicles the quest of Joshua Pearl, a prince (whose real name is Ilian) to reunite with his first love. Joshua Pearl is banished from the world of fairy tales—the land of Kingdoms—by his cruel and resentful brother. He magically arrives in Paris at the onset of World War II and is unaware that his love, Olia, a fairy, has also been banished to the human world. Because magic prevents Olia from revealing herself, she is forced to watch Joshua from the shadows. Readers are left spellbound by the magic and mystery of Joshua’s quest to return to the Kingdoms and reunite with Olia. Only at the story’s conclusion does French author Timothée de Fombelle reveal how Joshua and Olia find their way back to the Kingdoms and to each other.

Ages 15+

Ophelia. Charlotte Gingras. Trans. Christelle Morelli & Susan Ouriou. Ill. Daniel Sylvestre. 2018. Groundwood/House of Anansi.

OpheliaTenth grader Ophelia is a loner, who seldom says anything. When an author visiting her Quebec high school gets no response from students when she asks for questions, however, Ophelia asks “Why do you write? What’s the point of writing?” At the end of the session, the author thanks Ophelia for speaking up and gives her a blue notebook, writing in it her address along with the message “If you feel like writing . . . Or you want to write to me . . .” The letters Ophelia writes to the author in the notebook and the art she begins to create in an abandoned building she comes across one night while out tagging walls with her signature little broken heart are the beginning of a journey of self-acceptance, finding friendship, and reaching out to other outsiders in this coming-of-age story with intriguing abstract and collage artwork incorporating French words.

Laura Cutler is a PhD student in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Delaware. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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