Children’s book competition result


Wow. What a lot of wonderful book recommendations you gave me in response to my request for suggestions of children’s stories written in languages other than English. Entries have come from far and wide – Ukraine, India, China and Switzerland to name just a few.

Reading through your comments has been a joyful and intriguing experience. And, as is always the case with exploring literature from elsewhere, it has given me so much more than simply ideas for good reads.

I really enjoyed your accounts of the different ways you’ve read and shared stories. From Annemarie and her cousins rewording one of the songs in the audioversion of Klatremus og de andre dyrene i Hakkebakkeskogen by Thorbjørn Egner for her grandmother’s 80th birthday to Ray and his schoolfriends pretending to be the title character in Yang Hongying’s Naughty Ma Xiaotiao.

The cultural information you shared along the way was fascinating too. I was very interested by teacher Mariska’s comment that in Sweden children who have a mother tongue other than Swedish have a legal right to receive tuition in that language as part of their school education. Similarly, I loved the video that Encarni shared of giants dancing in Catalonia. This is something I experienced first hand at a festival in the Priorat region a few years ago and it is a wonderful sight. It was great to learn that the tradition comes from the song and tale ‘El Gegant del Pi’.

The book recommendations themselves were marvellous. So many tempting-sounding stories and concepts – from a paintbrush that enables a poor boy to bring his imaginings to life (Magic Brush by Hong Xuntao) to a book about a girl with a terminally ill mother that also contains recipes for the world’s best cocoa and pancakes as well as special tricks for secret agents (Die erstaunlichen Abenteuer der Maulina Schmitt by Finn-Ole Heinrich).

And, among the many new discoveries, I was struck by the handful of familiar stories that came to light too. There were favourites such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince, along with well-known fables like the Kiswahili account of how the tortoise got its shell (Safari Ya Angani by Francis Atulo) – a version of which I heard in primary school. These shared narratives, many of which have travelled around the world, reminded me once again of the extraordinary power that stories have to connect us across cultural barriers.

I could easily have chosen ten or more winners from among the entries, but sadly I only have one signed copy of Reading the World to give away. And so, after much deliberation, I have decided to give the prize to Frances for her recommendation of the Italian classic Le avventure di Cipollino by Gianni Rodari, a story that has been popular in many parts of the world, including Russia, where the postage stamp pictured above featuring two of the characters is from.

Frances’s description of the tale was well-calculated to pique my interest: ‘a story of good versus evil and the power of affection, family and friendship in the fight against tyranny… in a world of vegetables and fruits’. But it was what she said after her pitch that tipped the balance. Describing how she had been able to recite the story word for word when a friend began to read it aloud years later, she wrote: ‘This is the reason of my choice: the book is good and I love it, but even more so, it is engraved in my heart. These books, we always want to pass on to others, as a gift from our heart to theirs.’

To me, that is the key to many of the best reading experiences I have had during this project and throughout my life. I hope 2016 brings many more such reads for all of us – books that we love so passionately that we want to give others the gift of reading them too.

Happy new year everybody and thanks again. Frances, I’ll be in touch.

Tell me about children’s books (and I might give you a free book)

Finished book

Since I started my quest to read the world, I’ve encountered all sorts of literary explorers. I’ve had messages from people doing their own round-the-world trips on different timescales and with contrasting criteria to mine. I know of bloggers engaged in sampling the literary offerings of particular regions or continents, or of all the nations playing in the world cup. And I’ve heard from people who are trying to find international books from particular genres. (I even got an email not so long ago from someone set on reading a horror novel from every state – a particularly dark quest, as he pointed out!)

Perhaps the most common inquiry I receive from prospective world readers, however, concerns children’s books. I’ve lost track of the number of parents and teachers who have written to me asking for advice on resources they can use to help youngsters read more widely. It’s great to know that so many children are surrounded by adults keen to help expand their imaginary universes in this way.

Although during my quest I only read two books aimed specifically at children (my choices for Dominica and for the Central African Republic) and one YA novel (Samoa), my literary adventures have brought me into contact with a number of great projects exploring children’s literature from around the world. In the UK, for example, the wonderful Outside In World organisation has done a lot to bring more great books onto British children’s radars. Meanwhile in New York, this list compiled by Marianna Vertsman at Mid-Manhattan Library is a great starting point. There are also some wonderful personal projects, such as the Read Around the World section on mother-of-three Amy’s Delightful Children’s Books blog.

In my reading this year, I was also enthralled by Helen Wang’s wonderful translation of Cao Wenxuan’s Bronze and Sunflower, a glorious children’s story set in rural China during the Cultural Revolution. I made it my April Book of the month and I’ve been very pleased to see that it’s been getting some much deserved attention in the UK Independent and Guardian newspapers this week.

But, as you’ve probably gathered from this project, I’m a great believer that you can never have enough book recommendations. So I thought I’d see what you’ve got to add to the discussion of children’s literature from beyond the English-speaking world. And because it’s the festive, gift-giving season in many parts of the planet and I’m feeling generous, I thought I’d offer you the chance of getting a signed copy of my book in return.

Simply leave a comment below giving the title and author of your favourite children’s book written in a language other than English, and up to four sentences about why you like it. Your recommended title can be available in translation or yet to be translated, and it can be a picture book or full of words. My main criteria are that you love it and that it’s good.

On January 1 at midday UK time, I will read through all the entries and choose my favourite, most persuasive book pitch. And that person will get a signed copy of the UK edition of my book, Reading the World (pictured above). I’ll even personalise the dedication and post it to you and everything. So go on, tell me what children’s stories we English-language readers are missing.