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Picture Books in Translation

July 5, 2022

If you already recognize the value of diverse picture books and include them in your reading routine, consider casting an even wider net by adding picture books from around the world translated into English.

Picture books by international creators offer different perspectives, and often feature groundbreaking art and narratives. Check out some translated highlights from our collection below.

I've written about Heena Baek's work previously, and with good reason. She is one of South Korea's most well known picture book creators, and Moon Pops is a prime example. Based on Korean folklore, this delightful book is by turns funny, fantastical, and endearing. 

It is a sweltering summer night, so hot that no one can sleep. The anthropomorphic wolf residents of an apartment building cope the best they can; they wear lightweight pajamas, run their air conditioners and fans, and open their refrigerator doors to let the cool air out into their apartments. It is in fact so hot that the full moon in the sky begins to melt! Granny from Apartment 503 is the only one to notice, and she runs to catch the dripping moon in a bucket. 

But all of the electrical use in the apartment building soon causes a power outage. How will anyone get any respite from the heat now? Ah, Granny from Apartment 503 has put those moon drops to good use and made "icy and sweet" Moon Pops for everyone. As everyone enjoys the pops, the heat melts away and everyone is finally able to sleep. 

This a fun read-aloud for young children—there are onomatopoeic sound effects, and a twist that nods to Korean folklore. The illustrations are astounding: using mixed-media 3D shoebox dioramas, collage art, and digital photography, Baek gives us an actual fully formed world which we can peer into and experience. 

Originally published in France, The Brief Thief tells the story of Leon, a lizard who finds that he is out of toilet paper after heeding the call of nature. Luckily, there is an old pair of holey underwear right there in his tree, and Leon makes ready use of it. 

But a mysterious voice stops Leon from continuing his day. Was that pair of underwear his to take and use as toilet paper, no less? Why did he take it, if it wasn't his? The voice is his conscience, "the little voice you hear inside your head whenever you get up to something naughty." What will the insistent voice of his conscience have him do to rectify his transgression? 

There is a laugh out loud surprise ending to this book, which I will not spoil for anyone. It's just so good! This book is perfect for young humor fans, especially those who like "potty" humor (basically all children—we all know it, and adults  should emulate children's willingness to test the boundaries of silliness). French born author Michaël Escoffier is a prolific picture book writer, and his work has been translated into multiple languages. 

Markedly different in tone from the above books but no less extraordinary, Migrants deserves widespread notice. Peruvian born artist Issa Watanabe has given us a stunning wordless picture book about empathy, courage, and hope.

Set against a stark black background throughout, a diverse group of anthropomorphic animals (including elephants, lions, foxes, rabbits, and various birds, both children and adults) travel on foot, carrying little more than the clothes on their backs. They have been forced to leave their homes, and sleep out in the open air of the forest.

But there are hints that tragedy lies ahead. A few steps behind the migrants is Death, represented by a human-like figure with a skull for a head and dressed in a flowered black robe. A blue ibis, traditionally associated with the afterlife and travel between worlds of the living and the dead, accompanies Death. For many migrants, their journeys are often marked by dangerous circumstances and outcomes.

The animals embark on the next leg of their journey via boat, but tragically, not all the animals make it to the other side. Beset by mourning, the weary animals soldier on until arriving at a grove with brilliantly red flowers and fruits. There is hope at the end of their trials.

This a standout picture book. Its story is all the more powerful because of its lack of text and the bold contrasts in its illustrations, between the colors of the animals and the monochromatic backgrounds. Animals engender empathy—and the diversity of the animals portrayed in the book make this an universal story of forced migration, one that often includes children

Picture Books in Translation

For more picture books in translation, check out the above catalog widget. The list features picture books from Spain, Italy, Venezuela, Iran, China, Brazil, Japan, Austria, and more. If you want keep abreast of new books from around the world, be sure to visit the blogs at Global Literatures in Libraries Initiative (to which I also contribute) and Project World Kid Lit. There is a whole world of picture books to discover! 

Klem-Mari Cajigas


In a former life, Klem-Marí was a Religious Studies scholar. She much prefers being the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life! She wants you to read and share books with the children in your life, and for those children to see you to read as well. Originally from Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí also enjoys her cat, baking, yoga, and the works of Octavia Butler.