Picture books translated into English
Picture books in translation: John Jensen Feels Different (from Norwegian) and Little Naomi, Little Chick (from Hebrew).

Picture books make excellent cultural ambassadors. That’s what the folks at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers firmly believe, at least.

It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the things they love best is helping picture books travel around the world — importing and exporting beautiful books in translation that transcend their cultures of origin and offer readers everywhere “a small window into a larger world.”

This week on EerdWord, we’re celebrating this “picture book diplomacy.” We heard yesterday from subsidiary rights manager Tom DeVries about Eerdmans picture books that have made their way into the hands of children in Germany, China, and beyond.

Today we welcome EBYR managing editor Kathleen Merz and art director Gayle Brown as they share with us a little about what it’s like to bring international picture books into the U.S. market.

* * *

John Jensen Feels Different
Henrik Hovland and Torill Kove’s John Jensen Feels Different, translated from Norwegian into English.

This spring, for the 50th year running, thousands of professionals involved in children’s publishing gathered in Italy for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. As has been the case for as long as EBYR has been around, representatives from our imprint joined them and spent a week meeting with publishers from around the world, looking at all of their latest titles in hopes of falling in love with a few books that we could buy English rights to and publish here in the U.S. And there is plenty to fall in love with at Bologna — a whole world of creative ideas beyond what we’ve dreamed up here in our own country.

In these days of digital everything, it’s easy for publishers to send PDFs of their books anywhere in the world, so after Bologna, the projects come pouring in to our inboxes for all of us to look over. It would be easy enough to get some sense of what everyone wide oceans away is publishing without ever leaving our desks.

Little Naomi, Little Chick
Avirama Golan’s Little Naomi, Little Chick, translated from Hebrew into English.

So why go to the trouble of flying halfway around the world every year? It’s because Bologna is not just about doing business and finding books for our list. It’s about the relationships we have the chance to build there, one publishing house at a time. It’s about the chance to get to know the people behind the books we bring over, to better understand their cultures and their values and how both of those might be translated for an American audience. It’s about making connections that extend beyond our small corner of the globe.

And the chance for connection, really, is the reason that EBYR makes space on its list for international titles. It’s not easy: there’s always a fine line to navigate between being faithful to the original book and making sure that everything will be accessible enough to an American audience. But we choose the books we do because somehow they capture something basically human that transcends all of that — something that doesn’t need to be translated. We hope that the books we publish will help kids see that children in Norway, or France, or Israel, are not so different from them. We hope that our books will help them make a connection to a broader world, too.

Click to order Henrik Hovland and Torill Kove’s John Jensen Feels Different or to preorder Avirama Golan’s Little Naomi, Little Chick, coming in September, 2013. 

Click on the images in this post to view larger versions.