Celebrating International Children’s Books

Each January, the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) announces their Outstanding International Books list during a meeting at the American Library Association conference.  The latest list, reflecting books published or released in 2023 and chosen by a committee of USBBY members, has just been released and we are delighted to find treasured titles honored on it.

The list contains 39 titles, divided by age group, and offering kids and adults who care about books and a broadened view of human experiences, with titles now available in the United States from Chile, Spain, South Korea, Ukraine, Italy, South Africa, Russia, Canada, Vietnam, Jordan, Honduras, Switzerland, Ireland, and many other countries. We suggest you read every book on the list and take time to delight in the many that include fine artwork created in a variety of media, and acknowledge the expertise of the translators who make many of the books available to monolingual English language readers. You can view the slide show of the presentation here to see and hear how the books are grouped by theme.

To inspire you to dig in, meet the list-makers we championed:

In the Grades Pre-K – 2 portion of the list, Yellow Butterfly: A Story from Ukraine, by Oleksandr Shatokhin, and published by Red Comet Press, is a powerful wordless book from Ukraine. Many starred reviews and praise from authors and readers alike have been published in the past year. A portion of the sales from this book are donated to the Universal Reading Foundation in support of supplying books to Ukrainian children.

Also on the earliest reader potion of the Outstanding Books list is recognition for The Bear and the Wildcat by Kazumi Yomoto and illustrated by Komako Sakai, was published by New Zealand’s Gecko Press in an English translation from its original Japanese by Cathy Hirano. This palpably honest and helpful story about grief and the understanding friends can provide one of their own in such sadness has a fine set of Teacher’s Notes on the publisher’s website to help guide conversations on the topic.

The next section of the Outstanding Books list features titles for readers Grades 3 – 5.  From South Korea, through the efforts of publisher Blue Dot Kids Press, we find The Moon Tonight: Our Moon’s Journey Around Earth, by Jung Chang-hoon, illustrated by Jang Ho, and translated by Paige Morris. Here scientific explanation accessible to the age group is paired with illustrations by an artist who has won the Bologna Book Fair Ragazzi award twice in the past decade.

Also in this age category we find another lunar-themed title. The Moon Is a Ball: Stories of Panda & Squirrel is written by Belgian Ed Franck, illustrated by Thé Tjong-Khing, and translated from Dutch by David Colmer, and is another published by New Zealand’s Gecko Press. Here the theme is friendship, served with warmth and humor.

From the United Kingdom’s Lantana Publishing, Letters in Charcoal, by Irene Vasco, illustrated by Juan Palomino, and translated from its original Spanish by Lawrence Schimel, began its life as a children’s book in Colombia. The story is one of a child living in a largely nonliterate pueblo who is determined to learn to read. The author has personal experience teaching reading to children in remote areas of her native Colombia. What a perfect way to begin reading your own way through the Outstanding International Children’s Books list this year!

In the Grades 6-8 portion of the list, we find Run for Your Life, by Jane Mitchell and published by Ireland’s Little Island Books. This novel introduces readers to the Irish asylum seekers’ association Direct Provision through realistic fiction that is both gripping and eye-opening to the awareness that refugees are under threat worldwide in our contemporary world.

Also from Little Island, Savage Her Reply, by Deirdre Sullivan with illustrations by Karen Vaughan, provides youth with a feminist retelling of an Irish folktale sure to entrance fantasy readers and lovers of rich language.

While all these books have been published for young readers, every one of them deserves note by adults as well. Consider sharing them with anyone looking for a good, international title to expand their reading world.

Bonus: Take a virtual front row seat to review the full list reveal and discussion held on January 19, 2024, in Baltimore.

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