While the translated picture-book market cannot, probably, be said to be “booming,” there is no question that it is relatively healthy, with the increased presence on our shores of publishers such as NubeOCHO (Spain), Clavis (Belgium and the Netherlands), Little Gestalten (Germany), and Museyon (Japan) augmenting the efforts of committed U.S. and Canadian publishers including Eerdmans, Enchanted Lion, and Owlkids to bring works from overseas to young North American readers.
But the same cannot be said for middle-grade books in translation. 2018 brought just enough to count on one hand. Of this tiny handful, two are standouts: the ebullient Ivorian-French graphic compilation Akissi, by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Mathieu Sapin and translated from the French by Judith Taboy and Marie Bédrune; and Tortot, the Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart, by Benny Lindelauf, illustrated by Ludwig Volbeda and translated by Laura Watkinson.
Akissi pulls together episodes from a long-running French comics series, taking readers to the vibrant streets of Abidjian, where the title character finds herself no end of opportunities for delicious mischief. Whether she’s accidentally beaning her grandmother with a coconut, cultivating a mouse as a pet, or rescuing a sheep that’s fallen off the top of a minibus, Akissi’s adventures are utterly unlike any chronicled by U.S. graphic novelists—but her spirit will be recognizable to everyone who loves Ramona or Clementine.
Lindelauf’s loopy anti-war fable features the titular “cold fish,” an army field cook whose cuisine is as divine as his soul is misanthropic. Caught up in a senseless war that, when won, morphs into an even more senseless one, Tortot’s only loyalty is to his craft and his donkey—until a hapless soldier, critically maimed, takes up residence in a gherkin barrel and leads Tortot back to his humanity. It’s a passionate, sardonic plea for peace in absurd times.
Both offer North American middle graders valuable insights into cultures not their own, but they are not enough. How about two handfuls next year? Vicky Smith is the children’s editor.