World Kid Lit: 10 Books Showcasing a Lively and Playful Latin American Children’s Literature
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This brief tour of literature from Latin America for young poeple is part of a month-long series celebrating world literature for children as part of WorldKidLit Month, on twitter at #WorldKidLit.
Just south of the US border, and for many thousands of miles, we can find energetic, poetic, and moving children’s literature. A number of Latin American countries—among them Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela—have fun, flowering, and innovative children’s book industries.
Yet despite their proximity to publishing powerhouses in the US, relatively few Latin American children’s books make it into English. Even fewer get wide recognition. The Batchelder, one of two leading prizes for translated kid lit, has shortlisted only two titles from the Spanish in its nearly 50-year history. Only one of these was by a Latin American author, the book Written and Drawn by Henrietta, by Argentinian cartoonist Ricardo Liniers.
However, one of the prize’s 2017 finalists was Colombian author Jose Sanabria, for As Time Went By, first published in Switzerland and translated from the German by Audrey Hall.
The other big translated kid-lit prize is the twenty-one-year-old Marsh Award. The only time its judges shortlisted a book from Latin America was in 2009. It was Letters from Alain, by Cuban author Enrique Perez Diaz, translated by Simon Breden. It was originally published not in Latin America, but in Spain.
Indeed, far more children’s books come to the United States from Spain than from Mexico, as Publishing Perspectives’ Dennis Abrams observed while attending a publishing seminar in 2013.
This is despite the fact that, “year after year children’s books from Mexico have been the recipient of numerous awards at the Bologna Children’s International Book Fair, including [the 2013] New Horizons award,” Abrams writes.
Publisher Patricia van Rhijn told Abrams one of the reasons for this deficit is that English-language publishers are “so square” in their thinking. Many US and UK kid-lit publishers will only accept books with a certain number of words and a certain number of pages. Yet it’s for just this reason—that other places do books differently—that it’s important for them to cross borders.
Yet it’s for just this reason—that other places do books differently—that it’s important for them to cross borders.
Some Mexican children’s books do manage to cross. A surprising three translations made the Kirkus Prize’s six-book kid-lit shortlist in 2017. One is from Mexico, the charming Walk With Me, by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng and translated by Elisa Amado.
Farther south, Brazil is a globally recognized children’s literature hotspot. In 1982, Lygia Bojunga Nunes became the first Brazilian author to win the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award, and her win was followed by two others. Fellow Brazilian writer Ana Maria Machado won the HCA Award in 2000, and Brazilian artist Roger Mello took the HCA illustration award in 2014. No other country outside Europe and the US has had so many authors and illustrators recognized by this prestigious international prize.
Argentinian children’s book authors and artists have also found an audience in English. This is not just true of Batchelder shortlistee Ricardo Liniers, but also Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner Isol, and authors like Poly Bernatene, Jorge Lujan, and Sandra Comino.
So thankfully, at least in the world of children’s literature, we can take down the fences, walls, and impediments to travel between the Americas. These are ten books that do, starting with one for babies and their parents.
Cover image from Happiness is a Watermelon on your Head by Stella Dreis