Kids Need Translations – An Idea Whose Time Has Come

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There’s a new group of activists on the block – the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI). This translator-led group includes editors and librarians. Our mission is to promote the increased publication of translations from other countries (the numbers are pitifully low) and to provide resources to help librarians understand how to use these titles so if they do get purchased they don’t sit on the shelf and then get withdrawn for lack of circulation. Please visit our group on Facebook; at press time we had 263 members. You’ll also find us on Twitter: #GlobalLitinLibs.

Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI)

Betsy Bird covered our Conversation Starter session at ALA in Orlando for School Library Journal. Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s post over at YALSA’s The Hub demonstrates why it’s crucial to have translations for teens. This blog post (which expands on my remarks from the Conversation Starter panel) makes the case for the increased publication, promotion, and sharing of translations for children.

Connection to the rest of the world

Reading books from other countries can help bridge geographical and cultural gaps. Strong fiction and nonfiction narratives lead to a richer appreciation of geography, history, and literary style, bringing the wider world to young readers, who themselves are part of an increasingly interconnected world.

From my own research, I know that many editors who publish translations are motivated by the desire to help young readers build “bridges of understanding” through children’s books. This is also the mission that IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People) and our national section, USBBY, have been carrying out since 1953 and the early 1960s respectively. Today, when refugees and migrants are demonized, children still need to build these bridges of understanding and empathy.

Personal connections

We want children to see themselves (mirrors) as well as others (windows) in their books, and use stories to connect (doors). Translations also allow children to read what their counterparts in other countries are reading without the barrier of language.

Literary quality – and the Common Core

Compelling literary voices are available to us in translation. We all know the classics such as Pinocchio, but what about contemporary writing?

wonderful fluffyConsider the whimsical French picture book that won the 2016 Mildred L. Batchelder Award – Beatrice Alemagna’s The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy.1 As is often true of translations, the art in this picture book is fresh and distinctive.

Translations are brought to us by two talented writers – the author and the translator. They invite the curiosity and critical thinking so central to the Common Core …and to a satisfying recreational read.

Valuing other voices

From translations, readers learn about their peers in other countries – and they learn that this knowledge is worthwhile. Readers in most other countries read far more translations than we do. If the transmission of culture is not to be one-way, we need translations from other countries.

In  a recent Horn Book column, Spanish translator Elena Abós describes how the widespread belief that translations don’t sell can be a self-fulfilling prophecy for publishers. If we make it clear that we need and will buy translations, publishers will supply them.

We need more translations now!

Translations are important for library collections because they build bridges of understanding; act as mirrors, windows, and doors for our children; offer exciting literary voices that we would otherwise miss; counteract cultural hegemony by valuing the work of authors from other countries; and provide new insights. Philip Pullman (2005) sums it up best: “If we DON’T offer children the experience of literature from other languages, we’re starving them. It’s as simple as that.”2

  1. Alemagna, Beatrice. (2015). The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy. Claudia Zoe Bedrick. Brooklyn: Enchanted Lion.
  2. Pullman, Philip. (2005). “Foreword.” In D. Hallford & E. Zaghini, eds., Outside In: Children’s Books In Translation. (p. 9). Chicago: Milet.


Courtesy of guest blogger
Courtesy of guest blogger

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Annette Y. Goldsmith. Annette is a Lecturer for the University of Washington Information School. She chaired the 2010 Mildred L. Batchelder Award Committee. With Theo Heras and Susan Corapi, she is co-editor of Reading the World’s Stories: An Annotated Bibliography of International Youth Literature (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


  1. Barbara Klipper

    Great post Annette, and lots of food for thought.
    We’ve all been talking a lot about diversity and your post reveals another aspect we should pay attention to.
    American children can only benefit from exposure to other countries and cultures through translations. As you say so well, these books can serve as windows and bridges, counteracting xenophobia and making our kids better informed and more accepting global citizens.

  2. Pingback: #IBBYcongress 2016: Literature in a Multi-Literate World - ALSC Blog

  3. Annette Goldsmith

    Thanks, Barbara! There are many different ways to approach diversity and I just don’t want this very important one to be overlooked.

    Everyone: the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI) now has a website:

  4. Annette Goldsmith

    GLLI membership update: as of today we have 343 members! Come visit us at and consider following us (and maybe joining) too!

  5. Annette Goldsmith

    GLLI is now at 493 members! Here’s the description of our Facebook group: “As a group of translators, teachers, librarians, and other sundry professionals, we are interested in exploring ways in which libraries can become dynamic places to help cultivate an appreciation for global literature in translation and to further international understanding.” If this sounds like your cup of tea, please follow/join: Thanks!

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