'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 26 March 2018

Guest Post: Laura Taylor with Ten Fabulous Reads from Around The World

There’s a whole world of beautiful picture books out there! In May last year, I set out to research, read and review a selection of contemporary titles from every UN member state. It has been a wonderful introduction to the work of authors, illustrators, translators and publishers dotted around the globe. And the discoveries continue . . .

I have – without exception – enjoyed every title I have read on this journey, but here are ten that really wowed me.

Petit, the Monster by Isol, translated from the Spanish by Elisa Amado (Groundwood Books, 2010)

Petit is bad when he tells a lie, but good at telling stories. Simple on the surface, this story explores a topic that is difficult to grasp for us all: What is good and what is bad and how do we learn to distinguish the two when there is so much complexity? The quirky illustrations by Isol, 2013 recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, carry an impressive range of emotion.

     2.    BELGIUM
Maia and What Matters by Tine Mortier, illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire, translated from the Flemish by David Colmer (Book Island, 2013)

Maia and her Grandma are kindred spirits. They love to run, tell each other stories, and eat biscuits, sweets and cake. Then Grandma suffers a stroke. Despite its dark theme, this is a beautiful story about a young girl adapting to changing circumstances and finding a new way to show her love for her grandmother. Kaatje Vermeire’s detailed illustrations, in soft shades with pops of cherry red, are exquisite.

Chicken in the Kitchen, by Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (Lantana Publishing, 2015)

Anyaugo discovers a huge chicken in the kitchen about to spoil the food for the New Yam festival. And, to make matters worse, there’s a mischievous Wood Wit intent on manipulating the action! Chicken in the Kitchen brims with energy and humour, and the illustrations by Iranian-British illustrator Mehrdokht Amini are both stunning and unusual. A brilliant cross-cultural collaboration. 

Pool by JiHyeon Lee (Chronicle Books, 2015)

A young boy stands on a poolside, then dives in, plunging below the boisterous crowd on the surface. There, he meets a young girl and together they explore an underwater kingdom. JiHyeon Lee plays with contrasts and a muted palette to create a wordless picture book of great depth. A beautiful tribute to friendship and the power of the imagination.

5.    HAITI
Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Alix Delinois (Scholastic/Orchard Books, 2010)

This fictional account is set in the aftermath of the giant earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. Junior is pulled from the rubble and tells the waiting press how he resorted to his imagination to survive his ordeal. The pages are alive with colour and energy as Junior flies kites, plays marbles and sings a solo in the choir. Sadness creeps in, but the overarching message is one of positivity and hope for the future. 

Puteri Tioman: The Green Turtle by Rossiti Aishah Rashidi, illustrated by Farrah Ashiela Samsuri (Oyez!Books, 2011)

Puteri Tioman is a green turtle returning to Tioman Island off the coast of Malaysia to lay her eggs. A beautifully illustrated non-fiction title about the lifecycle of a green turtle and the dangers she faces at every stage of her journey. Rossiti Aishah Rashidi weaves a wealth of factual information into the story and urges readers to act now to save the turtle’s habitat.

7.    IRAN
When I Coloured in the World by Ahmadreza Ahmadi, illustrated by Ehsan Abdollahi, translated from the Persian by Azita Rassi (Tiny Owl Publishing, 2015)

A child sets about transforming the world with a simple box of crayons, an eraser . . . and a healthy dose of imagination and creativity. In a story that combines vibrant illustrations and simple poetic text, boredom becomes children playing under a blue sky; drought becomes big silver drops of rain and beautiful umbrellas; hunger is transformed into a lush green field of wheat. This is an uplifting book, full of hope, joy, beauty and peace.

8.    LATVIA
The Noisy Classroom by Ieva Flamingo, illustrated by Vivianna Maria Staņislavska, translated from the Latvian by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini, Sara Smith and Richard O’Brien (The Emma Press, 2017)

Modern technology, loneliness, the demands of school life – these are just some of the themes explored in this thought-provoking collection of 40 short, illustrated poems. Stunning illustrations in just three colours reflect the chaos, noise and movement of the school environment, as well as the more introspective themes. The perfect poetry companion!

Don’t Cross the Line by Isabel Minhós Martins, illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (Gecko Press, 2016)

A colourful crowd of people build up on the left-hand page of this picture book as a guard under orders forbids them to cross the line (the gutter of the book). Then, a red ball bounces over into the right-hand page and soon everyone follows . . . but the General is not happy on his return. A unique design and insightful portrayal of people’s responses to authority.

10.  ---
I know I promised ten – I haven’t run out of steam! Number 10 is for you. Which world picture book would be on your list? Maybe you happened on a picture book in translation in your local bookstore or library, or brought one home from your travels. Perhaps a review caught your eye and tempted you to buy a recent international release. Do share your pick in the comments. How fabulous would it be to compile another list of titles on Kids’ Book Review?

Laura Taylor is a writer and translator, and a mother of two. Born in the UK, she now lives near Newcastle, Australia and facilitates Planet Picture Book. She has set out on a quest to discover picture books from all the 193 member states of the United Nations, and share them with everyone through reviews on her site. KBR interviewed Laura a few days ago about her ambitious and thrilling reading challenge. You can read it, here.