Thursday, March 29, 2018

On Women in Translation: A Guest Post By Avery Udagawa

A #kidlitwomen, Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day post.

While following conversations this month about equality and representation in US children’s literature, I wondered about international women.

Women of other nations. Do US children connect with them?

Do they read them?

Can children access books by women who write in languages other than English, whose cultures contrast highly with the US?

To find out, I looked at past winners of the Batchelder Award, conferred annually alongside the Newbery and Caldecott to recognize translated children’s books published in the US. I also examined translated book logs from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. I found data worthy of celebration, and worthy of contemplation.

Prominent Translations for US Children Feature Women Authors, from Western Cultures

To see if US children can access women’s writing in translation, particularly from contrasting cultures, I assumed that winners of the Batchelder Award—conferred by the Association of Library Services to Children—would be among the most available books in translation for US kids. I looked at whether Batchelder Award winners have been written by women, and if so in what languages. I found (click to enlarge):

Over fifty years, 1968-2018, 54% of Batchelder Award titles were authored by women. Of these, 81% were written in European languages.

Looking at Batchelder Honor books:

Over twenty-eight years (1991-2018), 62% of Batchelder Honor titles were authored by women. Of these, 90% were written in European languages.

The translators of the combined Batchelder Award and Honor winners have been 60% women, 31% men, 6% male-female duos, and 1% (one) female duo.

I was surprised by the high percentage of Batchelder titles written and translated by women. This is remarkable, and worth examining for the dynamics that have made it possible.

Unfortunately, women writing in languages of contrasting cultures are under-represented. Only about 14% of combined Batchelder Award/Honor books by women were written in languages of Asia or the Middle East, and none were written in African or South American languages. Most of the world’s languages were absent entirely from the Batchelder lists, including Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (China), Croatian, Hindi, Hungarian, Korean, Malay, Nepali, Persian, Polish, Punjabi, Swahili, Thai, Ukrainian, and Urdu. These are all languages of countries with national sections of IBBY, suggesting that children’s literary scenes exist.

Translations likely to be accessed by US children feature women authors, who are predominantly writing in European languages.

Translations for Children Are Vanishingly Few

To put these findings in context, I also checked the overall percentage of children’s books published in the US that are translations. Batchelder Award and Honor books may be the most available books in translation, but how plentiful are translations generally?

I counted the titles listed in the CCBC Translated Book Logs from 1994 (the year logs were first kept) through 2017, and compared this count with either (a) the total number of books received by the CCBC that year, or (b) the total number of children’s books published in the US that year, according to which figure the CCBC published. I found:

For nearly a quarter-century (1994-2017), books in translation have represented less than 2% of total US children’s books published (1994-2001), or an average of 2.74% of children’s books received by the CCBC (2002-2017).

Rising percentages in recent years are noteworthy. Also, the CCBC data may be incomplete: I noted while counting that several translated books published in the US were not logged, due to not being submitted to the CCBC. These were books from small presses, which the CCBC notes generate a “significant body of authentic multicultural literature for children in the United States and Canada.”

The percentages I calculated are, however, supported by percentages for adult books in translation, which are estimated at 3% of books published in the US. In fact, a prominent world literature blog is named Three Percent.

The context the CCBC data provides for the Batchelder data, is that even award-winning translations for children represent a tiny part of a tiny field.

Returning to my question: can US children access books written by women in languages other than English, particularly from highly contrasting cultures?

No, because women writing in non-Western languages on the Batchelder list represent a sliver (of Batchelder books), of a sliver (of all translated books), of a sliver (of US children’s literature).

Women writing in languages other than English, from highly contrasting cultures, are invisible on US children’s bookshelves.

Avery writes on Facebook about how Eiko Kadono of Japan just won the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award, and that while Eiko has written nearly 250 original works for children, almost none of them are available in translation in the US. Even the Annick Press edition of her novel KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, translated by Lynne E. Riggs, [adapted into an animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki] is out of print (though going for hundreds of dollars on Amazon, Avery notes). 

In Closing

Speaking personally, I translate children’s books from Japan, a relatively familiar East Asian culture with a developed economy and publishing industry. (Incidentally, 15% of Japanese children’s titles published in 2017 were translations.) Yet I find that few fellow Americans can name a female Japanese children’s author.

And while I live in Thailand, I know of just one children’s novel by a Thai woman available in English (now out of print in the US), and none from neighboring southeast Asian countries.

I treasure books written in American English and European languages, and hope their numbers and diversity will grow. And I hope they can be joined by books from many more languages.

If we think of it, don’t we believe that women around the world have something to say to our children? Let’s help them connect.

Starting Points

Here are 3 posts to read about translation of children’s literature:

School Library Journal
Book Riot
The Horn Book

Here are 3 hashtags to shout out kidlit and women in translation:


Here are 3 lists of published kidlit in translation to buy or borrow:


To promote world literature, SCBWI welcomes not only international writers and illustrators, but also translators, who in 2014 became the third professional category of members. Translators are now part of 60 SCBWI regions, including 38 US regions. Reach out to translators to learn more about the world of world literature. Info:

Avery Fischer Udagawa serves as SCBWI International Translator Coordinator.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Inspiration from Beatrix Potter

Love this one...
“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they'll take you.” -Beatrix Potter
Benjamin Bunny illustration by Beatrix Potter, [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Golden Kite Winner for Nonfiction for Older Readers: "Vincent and Theo" author Deborah Heiligman: A Brief Interview

In the Nonfiction for Older Reader category, Deborah Heiligman's "Vincent and Theo" won the 2018 Golden Kite Award!

I connected with Deborah via email to learn more... 

Lee: Congratulations on “Vincent and Theo” winning the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction for Older Readers! Please tell us what your book is about.​ ​ ​

Deborah: Thank you, Lee. I'm thrilled that it won! Vincent and Theo is about the relationship between the Van Gogh brothers. It is a long-form narrative nonfiction, which I worked on for five years. They style is meant to reflect Vincent's different styles of painting, and the whole book is structured as a walk through a museum show. ​ 

Lee: Why write a book about Vincent Van Gogh now?​

Deborah: Well, I got the idea in Amsterdam in 2011, and I started working on it that fall. It took me a long time to do all the research, and then to write it. I revised it many times. So, while I wish it had come out sooner, it seemed like 2017 was a fine time for it to come out. I think that people are always eager for the inside story on famous people, and I think art matters even in the worst of times. Maybe especially in the worst of times! ​ 

Lee: The Golden Kite is just one of the many awards this book has received. Besides it being awesome, do you have a sense of why this book is resonating with award judges and getting such critical acclaim? (I mean this in the kindest way, I just think it’s fascinating that some author’s books hit different targets, yet many of their books are passion-driven and amazing.)

Deborah: Oh my goodness, I have no idea! I know there are a lot of worthy books published every year. I am just truly grateful that Vincent and Theo resonated with reviewers and judges, and now I hope it has a long life and resonates with many readers. But that's what we all want, isn't it? Our books to reach readers. I hope everyone who is reading this gets that wish fulfilled. 

Thanks, Deborah! 

To find out more about Vincent and Theo and Deborah Heligman, check out Deborah's website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Inspiration from Madeline L'Engle

From the official Madeline L'Engle website

With the new movie version of "A Wrinkle In Time" out in theaters, it seems like a good time to remember this bit of inspiration from the author Madeline L'Engle:
"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children." –Madeleine L'Engle
Learn more about Madeline L'Engle and her books here.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Black Kids Don’t Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time" - A Great Piece in the New York Times by Denene Millner

This opinion piece about diversity in kid lit is important reading. A highlight:
The typical children’s picture books featuring black characters focus on the degradation and endurance of our people. You can fill nearly half the bookshelves in the Schomburg with children’s books about the civil rights movement, slavery, basketball players and musicians, and various “firsts.” These stories consistently paint African-Americans as the aggrieved and the conquerors, the agitators and the superheroes who fought for their right to be recognized as full human beings.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate those kinds of books; our history deserves an airing with all children. But I’m not trying to have my kid float off into dreamland with visions of helping runaway slaves to freedom, or marching through a parade of barking dogs and fire hoses, or the subject matter of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” — yes, there is a children’s book devoted to this song protesting lynching.

Meanwhile, stories about the everyday beauty of being a little human being of color are scarce. Regardless of what the publishing industry seems to think, our babies don’t spend their days thinking about Harriet Tubman, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and black bodies swinging; they’re excited about what the tooth fairy will leave under their pillows, contemplating their first ride on the school bus, looking for dragons in their closets.
Read the full article here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Inspiration from Mem Fox

“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.” –Mem Fox, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever

Find out more about best-selling children's book author Mem Fox here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Golden Kite Winner for YA Novel Elana K. Arnold tells us about "What Girls Are Made Of"

I caught up with Elana at the #NY18SCBWI Autograph party, to find out more about "What Girls Are Made Of" and congratulate her on winning the SCBWI Golden Kite Award!

You can find out more about Elana K. Arnold and "What Girls are Made Of" at Elana's website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 1, 2018