The United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) releases annually their Outstanding International Books lists, and just last week they celebrated their 10th list. These bibliographies, which highlight children’s books originally published in other countries that are then brought to American shores, are wonderful resources for those wanting to share books across borders with children here in the States. This year’s list, which can be found here, includes 42 of the best imports published in 2014, ranging from pre-K to grade 12, chosen by a group of children’s book experts.
I love to follow picture book imports, in particular, and so I always look forward to this list (though, to be sure, it includes novels for children as well). In honor of this new list, I want to take a look today at some new, early 2015 picture-book imports.
First up is Orna Landau’s Leopardpox!, illustrated by Omer Hoffmann, which was released just last week here in the United States. The book was translated from the Hebrew by Annette Appel and was originally published in Israel in 2012. The author lives in Tel Aviv, and this is her debut children’s book—and for both author and illustrator, this is their picture book debut here in the U.S. It’s the story of a girl who wakes up feeling ill and eventually turns into nothing less than a leopard. Though the girl is thrilled, her concerned mother and siblings struggle to help her return to her human form—they take her to a doctor, a vet, the zoo. In the end, some time and attention from her mother does the trick (though don’t expect the story to end without a delightful twist). It’s a lot like Pija Lindenbaum’s When Owen’s Mom Breathed Fire (I love that book) turned on its head. Hoffmann’s mixed media illustrations ripple with movement and energy. It’s an entertaining tale, this one.
When the 2015 ALA Youth Media Awards were announced last week, author-illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh became a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor recipient. Again. (He received the Honor this year for this book.) Coming next from him are his illustrations for Jorge Argueta’s Salsa: Un Poema Para Cocinar/A Cooking Poem, translated by Elisa Amado. This one actually hasn’t made its way to American shores as an import—Groundwood Books will publish it right here in early March—but the text is in both Spanish and English. The Kirkus review calls this one a “giddy bilingual whirl.” It’s a festive celebration of food (salsa, in particular, as the title tells you) and music and culture, as a boy and his sister show us how they make their salsa. “Ummmm, it’s so delicious,” he says at the poem’s close. So is this book.
Also coming in early March from Australian author-illustrator Briony Stewart is the beautiful Here in the Garden, which is the lyrical story of a young boy grieving the loss of his pet rabbit. The boy, as the book opens, is pensive: “The wind is raking through the falling leaves and I wish that you were here.” He plays in his yard, imagining what he and his rabbit would do and remembering the way they used to spend their time as friends. Stewart takes the reader back and forth in time, showing the boy and rabbit on many spreads, alternating these happy moments with rabbitless spreads of the boy’s longing. The vibrant spreads, a tribute to the outdoors, sing with color and life. Readers who look closely will be rewarded with rabbit shapes where least expected. This is a touching, respectful tribute to the attachment children develop to their pets.
Next month, readers will see The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina, a picture-book biography of the Persian philosopher, scientist, and physician, written by Fatima Sharafeddine and illustrated by Iraqi illustrator, Intelaq Mohammed Ali. Sharafeddine has been nominated twice for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and is a very prolific writer. She now lives in both Beirut and Brussels and also works as a translator. This biography, first published in Arabic in 2013, is told from the first-person point of view, and readers come away with many details of Sina’s work and his thirst for knowledge. Ali’s soft-focus illustrations are filled with textured patterns and intricate details.
Last, but far from least, is one of my favorite illustrators, Emma Chichester Clark, who live and works in England. Bears Don’t Read, also coming in March but originally released overseas last year, is the endearing story of a bear who finds a book, falls in love with it, and decides he’ll learn to read. When he makes his way into town, he frightens everyone—everyone but young Clementine, who recognizes her book. She suggests that the bear learn to read with her, and they become fast friends. Clark’s dramatic spreads are always a treat for one’s eyes—rich colors, engrossing details, and patterns to pore over. (In this book’s opening spreads, pay close attention to the trees in the forest where the George the bear lives; Clark covered them in what look like fabrics.)
If the rest of the year yields picture-book imports this intriguing, the 2016 USSBY list will be an absolute treat. Here’s to reading past our own shores!
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.