In recent years, a proliferation of books in translation for children and young adults has brought imaginative stories from around the world to new readers. We’re speaking with some of the extraordinary publishers who make these books possible about their experience working in this vital field.
Words Without Borders (WWB): How long have you been publishing children’s literature in translation and what inspired your decision to do so?
Kelsey Skea (KS): We were thrilled to launch Amazon Crossing Kids this year, and in June we published our very first title, Spiky by Ilaria Guarducci, translated by Laura Watkinson. Amazon Publishing has a strong commitment to publishing literature in translation—our adult imprint, Amazon Crossing, is the leading publisher of translated books in the US. We also publish children’s books under our Two Lions imprint and saw a great opportunity to create a list of picture books in translation using expertise from both imprints. The Amazon Crossing Kids readership is just starting its journey as global citizens, and we’re hopeful that these books will both help educate kids about other cultures and develop their appreciation of a diversity of perspectives.
WWB: How did you select Spiky as Amazon Crossing Kids’s launch title? And how have you found the other authors/works you’ve published or are planning to publish?
KS: We were lucky to find three wonderful titles for our launch year. Spiky, which is from Italy, and A Tiger Like Me from Germany—both of which are out now—and Along the Tapajós from Brazil, which comes out on October 1. For our first title, we wanted a book that had a theme that many kids could relate to. Spiky deals with bullying, something kids around the world are unfortunately having to grapple with. We liked that the protagonist was a spiky animal who underwent a change in perspective, and that the storytelling is really engaging.
We’ve found books for our lists by connecting with publishers, groups that represent or promote publishers within a country, and agents; and through in-person meetings in New York, where we’re based, and at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.
WWB: What have been some of the most exciting aspects of the undertaking so far? What (if any) have you found to be the most challenging aspects of publishing children’s literature (as opposed to literature for adults)?
KS: We’ve been absolutely thrilled with the excitement around this imprint. We’ve heard from many members of the children’s publishing and librarian/educator communities about how delighted they are to see more books in translation for children. Parents and educators are looking for ways to educate their children about the broader world and other cultures, and they’re also seeking diverse books; both of those are core to our mission.
At Amazon Crossing Kids, we’re looking for picture books that are equally strong in their written and visual storytelling. This can be challenging because sometimes you love one aspect and not the other of a book. But we view both as equally essential to understanding the storytelling of the book and to representing that culture. It’s also important for translators to understand the role of the illustrations and how they interact with text in addition to considering the read-aloud experience. We had the good fortune to work with award-winning translators Laura Watkinson and Daniel Hahn on our launch titles—they’ve helped make these books sparkle.
WWB: What are you looking for in a children’s story as a publisher and as a reader? What do you think draws a child into a story? Do you think that a good children’s book will always have some appeal for adults as well?
KS: We’re looking for an interesting and engaging point of view and satisfying narrative, both written and visual. Most of what we’re publishing has an emotional component, and to me, that’s one of the most effective ways to draw kids into a story. If they’re invested in the character, and the writing and artwork are also well done, it will keep them turning the pages.
Everyone can take something away from a well-executed picture book, whether it’s an appreciation of art or storytelling, information being imparted, or a better understanding of another person’s experience. It very much depends on your own experiences, stage in life, and reading abilities; picture books do function on different levels. Reading aloud is also an important shared experience of its own. You help transport a child, share a moment of wonder with them, and learn about what interests them. And, let’s not forget, it allows you to simply be together with them. What’s more wonderful than that?
We hope these books help kids foster a sense of connection and connectedness to people in other parts of the world that stays with them as they grow up and develop their own perspectives.
WWB: Are there any underrepresented languages or countries that you’re particularly drawn to, and are there literary traditions in children’s literature from other countries that you’re keen for Amazon Crossing Kids to share with English readers?
KS: I would say every country is underrepresented in translated children’s literature—adding to the breadth of titles and regions published was part of the impetus for our imprint. But certainly European countries, and more specifically Western European countries, are much more heavily represented. While we publish books from Europe, we’re passionate about sharing books from all over the world, and we’re committed to seeking out and publishing works from less-represented regions and countries. We’re delighted to have titles from Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East on upcoming lists, and we look forward to adding books from Africa.
WWB: Do you think there has been a general upsurge in children’s publishing in recent years? What do you think has brought it about?
KS: Children’s publishing has certainly seen growth, and I think it’s because kids are so busy today and have so many things competing for their attention. Parents recognize the importance of reading and want to engage their kids however they can, in the way that’s most accessible, whether that’s in print or digital, in a graphic novel or traditional novel, in a book with licensed characters or not. So I think there is a greater depth of offerings across a broader array of forms than there was. And there’s also a lot of demand for diverse children’s books that are more reflective of a breadth of different experiences. As an industry, we have a lot of work to do here, but we’re hopeful that Amazon Crossing Kids books will contribute to that with books that offer a wide range of perspectives and experiences.
WWB: What is a new or forthcoming title that you are looking forward to sharing with readers?
KS: We’re really excited about Along the Tapajós by Fernando Vilela, translated from Brazilian Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. It’s about two children and their pet tortoise and the river community they live in. The art is absolutely striking, and the story gives a glimpse into a unique way of life. It’s the quintessential book for our list—it showcases something different from the American experience while also capturing something quite relatable on a human level, such as love for a pet. Along the Tapajós is available in Amazon First Reads this month and will be published on October 1.
And next spring and summer, we will publish two books on important subjects. Award-winner Bear and Fred: A World War II Story—by Iris Argaman, illustrated by Avi Ofer, and translated from Hebrew by Annette Appel—is inspired by the true story of a Jewish boy whose parents send him to live elsewhere during the Holocaust and the teddy bear he takes comfort from throughout his journey. It includes a picture of the original bear, who now lives in a museum in Israel. The Refuge—by Sandra le Guen, illustrated by Stéphane Nicolet, and translated from French by Daniel Hahn—is the powerful story of a refugee, the stars and sky that becomes her refuge, and the girl she befriends in her new country. With eloquent text and richly imagined visual storytelling, this is a timely story that we hope will resonate with readers.
WWB: What's next for Amazon Crossing Kids?
KS: We’re just getting started, and we’re looking forward to connecting with more people in the translation community and with more publishers around the world. We’re excited about publishing an ever-broadening list of books from different countries, regions, and languages, and we’re particularly eager to find some African picture books for our list. But most of all, we’re excited to hear from readers; we hope these books help kids foster a sense of connection and connectedness to people in other parts of the world that stays with them as they grow up and develop their own perspectives.
In January 2019, Amazon Publishing announced the launch of Amazon Crossing Kids, a new imprint for children’s books in translation. Building on the work of the Amazon Crossing imprint, the largest publisher of translated fiction in the United States, and the Two Lions imprint, a leading children’s book publisher, Amazon Crossing Kids aims to increase the diversity of children’s books in translation and encourage young reading from a range of cultural perspectives.