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Going Global with Translated Board Books

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Summer Loomis


Summer Loomis has been writing for Book Riot since 2019. She obsessively curates her library holds and somehow still manages to borrow too many books at once. She appreciates a good deadline and likes knowing if 164 other people are waiting for the same title. It's good peer pressure! She doesn't have a podcast but if she did, she hopes it would sound like Buddhability. The world could always use more people creating value with their lives everyday.

Recently, I’ve been looking for board books translated from another language into English. I am surprised it has taken me a long time to find titles that fit what I’m looking for. To clarify, I am not interested in bilingual or language learning board books at this time (although those can be awesome too — check out these 7 Spanish-English board books, bilingual books for kids, or 21 fascinating bilingual books for kids).

What I am looking for are board books that were written in a language other than English and then translated into English for English-speaking adults to read to their small humans. I love that these can differ a lot from books originally written for an English-speaking market. Also, it is one of the ways I’m hoping to diversify the collection of books I have access to.

At first, I naively thought it wouldn’t be that much of a challenge. Off the top of my head, I could think of Dick Bruna’s Miffy books (translated from Dutch by Olive Jones) and Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish (translated from German by J. Alison James). That is two titles right there, so how hard could this be?

However, after searching, I found many more books that fell into the bilingual or language learning type. A few looked lovely like Kiss by Kiss/Ocêtôwina: A Counting Book for Families written by Richard Van Camp and translated by Mary Cardinal Collins and ¡Cucú! En El Mar/ Peekaboo! In the Ocean written by Cocoretto and translated by Yanitzia Canetti, for example. However, these did not fit exactly what I was hoping to find.

Eventually, I found what I was looking for, and I have a list below that I hope I can expand upon at a later date. For now, let me offer you some choices for your own board book perusal.

Cover of Little Boat by Taro Gomi

Little Boat by Taro Gomi

Naturally, the first idea I had was to search for Taro Gomi of Everyone Poops fame and was delighted to find that he has many board books translated into English, in addition to his book about poo. I love the illustrations of his little anthropomorphic boat and the challenges it encounters. Of course, there are also similar titles like Little Truck and Bus Stops if you like this. However, I couldn’t easily find a translator for Little Boat or for many of his other titles, a practice I find very frustrating. Translators should be given their fair share of credit for bringing this work to an (in this case, English-speaking) audience. In respect for that, I have listed a translator for each book whenever possible.

Cover of The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit

The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch

Looking at the cover for this one, I thought why does the little mole have such a strange looking hairpiece on? And now that I’ve read it, well, I understand that his head is not covered in a wig. It is covered in excrement and that is pretty funny, I can’t lie. After finding this unfortunate surprise on his head, the little mole goes on a mission to find out who did it, with the conviction that he will exact his revenge when he finds out. As you can imagine, there is a lot of poop depicted in this one. Either that will work for you or you’ll want to skip this in favor of something less, well, excrement-focused, shall we say?

Cover of Jump! by Tatsuhide Matsuoka

Jump! Written and Illustrated by Tatsuhide Matsuoka, Translated by Cathy Hirano 

For this one, you should turn the book so the title is readable. Then start reading and I imagine you will be just as charmed as I was by the adorable illustrations of various animals jumping on every page. If you’re reading this to small humans, I think they will all want to jump too.

Cover of Turn Seek Find Habitats by Ben Newman

Habitats Written and Illustrated by Ben Newman, Translated by Wendeline A. Hardenberg

If you’re looking for some nonfiction, this title and the one that follows may be of interest. This one is part of a series called “Turn Seek Find” and allows little readers to turn the built-in page wheels and search for elements in the text’s illustrations. There is also one called Turn Seek Find Seasons by Philip Giordano.

Cover of Body Play Tabs

Body (Play Tabs) by Stéphanie Babin, Illustrated by Ilaria Falorsi, Translated by Wendeline A. Hardenberg

This book focuses on the human body and provides little and big readers with tabs that they can push and pull to reveal more in the text. If you enjoy this, you might also try Babin’s Baby Animals (Play Tabs).

Mr Lion's New Hair! cover image

Mr. Lion’s New Hair! Written and Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, Translated by Wendeline A. Hardenberg

Mr. Lion is in search of a new hairstyle and his friend Monkey is … sort of helping. Monkey keeps making suggestions and then giggling at the results. The book is translated from German by Wendeline A. Hardenberg who has quite a few children’s titles to her credit. If you like this one, look for some of Hardenberg’s other translations like Little Bug on the Move and Super Mazes in Space.

Cover of Moimoi Look at Me

Moimoi – Look at Me by Dr. Kazuo Hiraki and Jun Ichihara

Apparently these funny little creatures called “Moi” were designed in a lab and tested on babies. The resulting designs captivated their little fans for much longer than other ones, hence their publication in the book. While obviously no longer a baby, I found them rather mesmerizing so I think it’s worth a shot to see if your tiny humans also take to them.

Cover of I Can Be Anything by Yoshitake

I Can Be Anything by Shinsuke Yoshitake

This might be my favorite book on the list (shhh, don’t tell the other ones!). I found the illustrations so charming and the enthusiasm of the little main character (and the obvious lack of enthusiasm on the part of her Mom) to be endearing. And of course, I was rather proud of myself when I guessed that one of the things she was shaping herself into was an onigiri. The ending is pretty darn perfect in my opinion. Definitely try this one out if you can get your paws on a copy.

Cover of I'm the Boss Elise Gravel

I’m the Boss by Elise Gravel and Translated by Charles Simard

Okay so maybe this one is my favorite. Wait, you read what I wrote above? Fine, then this is one of my favorites, how is that? The little blue monster Lulu demands whatever she wants. It’s up to her loving big red monster to tell her the hard truth that she can’t have everything she wants right now. If you like this, try some of Gravel’s other lovely titles like You Can Be or I am Scary.

If you’re looking for more recommendations for little readers, check out these space books for babies or best busy books for toddlers. And if I find more board books translated into English, I’ll come back and update you all, don’t worry.