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March 2023 is ‘World picturebooks’ month at PEPELT. I think we can confidently say that translated picturebooks are rarely selected for the PELT classroom, this could be because the number of picturebooks translated into English from other languages is very small … but on the increase, you’ll be glad to read. Reluctance to select a picturebook for the PELT classroom that was first written in another language might also be based on a belief that we should only be sharing ‘English literature’ in class. Let’s challenge that!

We began this challenge in 2022 (Translated Picturebook)– we continue in 2023 with some more suggestions.

But to whet your apetites … take a look at this Carle Museum teacher support document for an exhibition they organised last year called, ‘Read the World: Picture Books and Translation’ – some really excellent suggestions and it confidently states, ‘Translation gives us access to the world’s ideas and knowledge.’ How true, and why not discover all this in an English class?

Read the World: Picture Books and Translation

The award winning publisher, Gecko Press, wrote a blog post on translating picturebooks, ‘The particularities of translating children’s books’:

“Found in translation – Many people talk about the notion of things being “lost” in translation—and of course we would be better if we could read Chinese, French, Polish and so on, and enjoy stories as they were written. We are nevertheless much the richer for the translated books from other countries to bring us something of the wider world and the flavour of it and the different ways of thinking and doing. But it is true that a bad translation can kill a book, faster than you can say blink, or oogwenk. A bad translation is like looking through a dirty window: with a good translation, you don’t know the window is there.”

The particularities of translating children’s books

Are you aching for more translated picturebooks to try out? I (Sandie) begin the month with a unique picturebook which was first published in Persian – ‘When I coloured in the world’ – it is an illustrated poem, written by Ahmadreza Ahmadi, Iranian poet and playwright, and illustrated by Ehsan Abdollahi, an Iranian illustrator and art teacher. It’s been translated into English by Azita Rassi and published by Tiny Owl Publishing (2017), an independent publisher who believes that stories are bridges to new experiences and pledge to produce beautiful, original books for children.

I wrote about this picturebook on my blog in October 2020. Take a peek and discover a “child empowering picturebook” for your PELT classroom. Go on … try a translated picturebook, it won’t hurt 🙂

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To continue our theme of world picturebooks for the month of March, I (Gail) have chosen another book this year by Beatrice Alemagna, ‘What is a Child?’ first written in Italian as ‘Che cos’è un bambino?’ in 2008. It has been translated into 14 languages: French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Korean, Greek, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, Romanian, Hebrew, Arabic and into English by Anna Bennett in 2016 and published by Tate Publishing. It has won the Crescer magazine’s Prize as best picturebook – Brazil 2014, and was elected for ‘the world through picture book’ IFLA (International Federation of Libraries Association), Netherlands 2015, and the exhibition ‘Più libri più libri’, Italy. It has a vertical orientation and is larger than most picturebooks (24 x 32 cms).

‘What is a Child?’ has large-print statements on verso, white pages that highlight the different characteristics and thoughts that make each child unique, and mixed-media portraits of children on the recto pages which complement the text. It has had mixed reviews from the public probably because the verbal text is both philosophical and humorous and the illustrations have a slightly contorted aspect, both of which seem more aimed at adults rather than children, as its beauty lies in hearing and pondering words rather than in following a story with a plot. For this reason, I suggest that ‘What is a Child?’ is an ideal picturebook to use with student teachers to encourage them to reflect on their own theories and constructions of children and childhood and to re-examine their beliefs and attitudes as to how these impact on the type of relationships they establish with children in the classroom.

The verbal text focuses on the child as an individual in their own right and the here and now of childhood, and their everyday lives as children rather than the child as growing up into an adult of the future, ‘A child has small hands, small feet and small ears, but that does not mean they have small ideas. Children’s ideas can sometimes be very big. They amuse the grown-ups and leave them open-mouthed, saying: ‘Oh!’’ Indeed, we should never underestimate children who are capable human beings with their own opinions and perspectives.

There is also a reference to Montessori’s classic work, ‘The Absorbent Mind’ which indicates the active and thoughtful processes involved in their development, ‘Children are like sponges. They soak everything in: bad moods, bad ideas, other people’s fears. The seem to forget, but then everything comes out again in their school bag, or under the covers, or in front of a book. Children want to be listened to with eyes wide open’.

My personal favourite statement, ‘Children come in all shapes and sizes. The children who decide not to grow up will never grow up. They keep a mystery inside them. So that even as grown-ups they will be moved by little things: a ray of sunshine or a snowflake.’ What is your favourite statement?

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“I was bored, and so they gave me a puzzle. […] The puzzle has only seven pieces. Seven! They said I could use them to make all kinds of things. Of course, I didn’t believe them. But I had nothing else to do, so I made a …”

I (Tatia) continue our theme of World Picturebooks with Tangram Cat, written by Maranke Rinck, illustrated by Martijn van der Linden, translated by Laura Watkinson and published originally in Dutch (Tangramkat) in 2017 by Lemniscaat.

I came across this picturebook shortly after its publication and was stunned by the unique opportunities it offered for arithmetic that goes beyond counting. At the end of the book, readers can find a sturdy 7-piece cardboard Tangram set which can be used to recreate the book’s illustrations. Adding such a physical (geometrical) interactive aspect came as a surprise to me. It allows the reader to engage in the story by following but also changing the narrative.

The story itself is one most of us can easily relate to; it is the story of feeling bored. It begins with the boy using his tangram set to create a cat. The cat is lonely, so the boy tries to make another cat which turns into a dog that chases the cat. He tries again but this time his ‘cat-attempt’ turns into a crocodile, not an ideal friend either… And so, the story continues until the boy and the cat are reunited and he realises, the cat is there for him. Together, they will not be lonely or bored.

Every spread is set on a white background, featuring only the tangram creations (boy and animals) which drive the story. The illustrations are in full-colour but confined to the geometrical shapes of the various tangram pieces. This in return offers a focal point per page. The simplicity and repetitive scheme of the story could be compared to that of a rhyme which allows the reader to focus on predicting. This in return adds to the ‘page turn anticipation’. The tangram set encourages the reader to express imagination (predictions) in words, thoughts and also in tangible shapes.

The text per page varies from a few sentences to single word (onomatopoeic) exclamations, the latter offering another way of active engagement, especially during a read-aloud. The tangram-style and the challenge of the tangram itself make this a suitable picturebook for all primary-aged learners. Teachers working in a CLIL-context will appreciate the clear links to English (e.g. researching the history of tangram, language for predicting and describing a scene) and arithmetic (spatial relationships, (geometrical) problem solving).

Tangram Cat (original title Tangramkat) is an award-wining picturebook (Gouden Penseel (2017); Zilveren Griffel (2017); Los Mejores del Banco del Libro (2018)) and has been translated into nine languages including English. I hope you like my choice. Thanks Tatia Gruenbaum


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The last book in our ‘World picturebooks’ month of March 2023 is by Anneta Sadowska, who as ever, shares the very practical, personal experience of taking her book choice into a classroom of Polish EFL learners.

Anneta’s book is ‘Letters from Bear’ by Gauthier David and Marie Caudry (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2020), originally written in French, ‘Les lettres de l’Ourse’ (Autrement, 2012 and Casterman, 2017). The School Library Review suggests it has “… a dreamy dose of Alice in Wonderland–esque happenings.”

‘Letters from Bear’ is just that, a collection of letters from a bear to his friend, a bird, who leaves him for the warmer climate – each letter sits on the white verso page, and the recto, or occasional double spread, is covered to the very edges of the pages in beautifully detailed illustrations in a pallet of bluey green and orange.

Anneta took this picturebook into her class of 11- 14-year-olds and, in her film, shares both the triumphs and challenges she encountered in doing so. She explains how she took the children on a journey into the past and considers the picturebook’s potential for touching on philosophy for children. Anneta and I also talk of other possibilities for this surreal picturebook. Do take a peek at Anneta’s film, slightly shorter than usual, but no less dynamic. Enjoy!