This might become a regular column.
Back in my bookseller days, I often talked with customers who asked for children’s books in foreign languages. It would be because their child was starting to learn a foreign language in school, or because the family was culturally diverse or simply because, though English was the main language spoken at home, they wanted their children to become bilingual and encouraged it through reading materials.
Understandably the selection our store had was limited–a few fairy tales in bilingual edition, generally English/Spanish, a copy of Harry Potter in Spanish, some comic books like Asterix or Tintin in French. I do not recall any children books in Mandarin or Korean–just to name a few, though we have a strong Asian population in my area (that was a few years ago, so maybe my former bookstore carries a few titles now). That fact isn’t surprising: this is the American market, English is widely spoken worldwide, and considering that books in a traditional format already compete with other technologies for children’s attention, why would a publisher or bookstore also carry them in foreign languages if there isn’t a strong demand and if they are not sure they will sell?
Still. In case you are curious about foreign popular titles, here are tidbits to satisfy your curiosity.
Without further ado, I introduce you to the humorous natural sciences series of professor Tatsu Nagata. Fact sheet:
Nagata, Tatsu. Les Sciences Naturelles de Tatsu Nagata: La Chouette (The Owl). Seuil Jeunesse, (France) 2006
Genre: Non-fiction; picture book
Issue/Topic: Exploration of various academic topics: natural sciences, geography….
Summary: Tatsu Nagata is a funny Japanese professor, who explains the world to children in short sentences served with hilarious, minimalistic illustrations. His language is straightforward and he speaks like a kid. His book are translated from Japanese to French. He stated that since 2006, he has been collaborating with author/illustrator Thierry Dedieu (also check Mr. Dedieu paintings and sample of work if you have a chance). Thierry Dedieu occasionally attends books events when Tatsu Nagata is backed up with his scientific obligations.
Application: This particular book is about the owl. Tatsu concludes by saying that owl has ugly babies (said with a non offensive humor, and served with the illustration of a baby owl with sparse feathers on its head). Upon hearing that, the owl in the book falls backward in a shakespearian way. Tatsu always seems in his world. The book is perfect for all occasions, including birthdays or graduation days. The book is accessible to the reader with about two years of French.
Age: 3 & up for the drawing journals, 5 & up for the picture books.
About the author: Tatsu Nagata was born in October 7, 1955 in the island of Yaku in Japan and is a renowned scientist specialized in amphibian metabolism. He states on his website that his goal is to share his passion for animals with children, while helping them develop an awareness for environmental issues. His blog is translated in French by Jacques Queyraut. Nagata Tatsu encourages readers to email him at the following address firstname.lastname@example.org. From my experience and for publication purpose, most scientists speak English, so feel free to contact him. 🙂
He stated that since 2006, he has been collaborating with French author/illustrator Thierry Dedieu (also check Mr. Dedieu paintings and sample of work if you have a chance). Thierry Dedieu occasionally attends book events when Tatsu Nagata is backed up with his scientific obligations. Pr. Tatsu Nagata lives in Japan.
More titles by the same author: I use Indiebound whenever possible, but in this case the website didn’t carry the titles, I assume because they are in French. I then turned to the Canadian Amazon instead: click here for more titles. Another of my favorites is Animals With Sands Between Their Toes. Upcoming titles include: Animals That Should Wear A Cap, and Animals Whose Behinds Are Freezing, set to be available this year. I will update this post as soon as I find out about the Japanese version.
Maybe the demand for books in foreign languages on American soil, including the availability of books by American authors translated in foreign languages, will slightly grow in the future. I know of libraries who started having bilingual story times, and in one in particular the room is becoming too small to welcome the growing number of children who attend.
If you live outside the U.S.A. and there are children’s books you particularly like, I encourage you to let us know. Contact me. 🙂