World Kid Lit: 12 Great Books from East Asia, from Picture Books to Manga and More
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This brief tour of children’s books from East Asia is part of a month-long series celebrating world literature for children as part of WorldKidLit Month, on twitter at #WorldKidLit.
Most modern children’s literature translated into English has come from Europe. This is especially true of the translations that enjoy wider distribution and celebration by literary prizes. But that’s changing—fully half of the shortlist for the Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation was, in 2017, children’s books translated from Asian languages. One was from Iran, one from China, and one from Japan.
The 2017 Batchelder Prize, also for translated children’s literature, had, on its 2017 honor list, a title from the Japanese. This was Taro Gomi’s Over the Ocean, translated by Taylor Norman.
If one region beyond Europe has been gaining recognition in the world of English children’s literature, it’s East Asia. There are a growing number of resources to help parents and educators discover East Asian books. One is the blog “Chinese Books for Young Readers,” founded by Helen Wang, supported by translators Anna Gustafsson Chen and Minjie Chen.
Minjie Chen said she hopes the blog “can help raise awareness of notable Chinese children’s authors and high-quality works…and highlight works that should be of interest to a wider readership than Chinese children.”
There are a growing number advocates for Japanese children’s literature, too. These include translator Avery Udagawa, one of the forces behind World Kid Lit Month, and Cathy Hirano, who is touring in the UK this month with her new translation, Yours Sincerely, Giraffe.
There are fewer children’s books translated from Korean to English, although the visibility of South Korean kid lit advocates is growing. Mi-kyoung Song’s Some Kid Lives Here & Other Stories, translated by Sophie Bowman, was one of the 2017 honor titles in the “In Other Words” competition, which supports the translation of its shortlisted titles. While there is a popular children’s literature in North Korea, it is, unsurprisingly, nearly impossible to find in translation.
As for Mongolia, there are only a handful of children’s book offerings in translation. Although Dashdondog Jamba and Borolzoi Dashdondog’s Mongolian Folktales has been brought into English, it’s fallen out of print.
For this 12-book list of celebrated, fun, and award-winning titles, we start with literature from China and Taiwan, move east to South Korea, then across the water to Japan.