International Literature: Children’s Books In Other Languages

Pranksters, princes and puppets — open your imagination and explore the wonderful world of children’s literature.
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International Literature: Children’s Books In Other Languages

A lifelong love of literature should start when you’re young. Children’s books encourage kids to use their wild and wonderful imaginations to explore new worlds beyond their own; they’re essential tools for teaching important life lessons and principles. The morals found in these tales are great for kids who are learning how to interact with the world around them, but that’s not to say they can’t shape the minds of adults, too! Moreover, children’s books can be great for people of any age to practice their native language or a learn a new one; much of the vocabulary children around the world first get to know in their mother tongues comes from the stories they hear from their parents or learn to read on their own. That same vocab in children’s books is great as a teaching tool for native speakers of other languages who are looking for simpler vocabulary in their target language that’s easier to understand than in more advanced books. 

In the United States, there’s the timeless work of authors like Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss, who penned children’s classics like The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and The Lorax. But what do other children’s books look like around the world? Here’s a look at some of the planet’s most famous children’s literature.

Children’s Books In Other Languages

The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince)

An all-time classic that has probably come across your radar (if it wasn’t already one of the major forces shaping your childhood), Le Petit Prince is a story about human relationships and learning to see not just with one’s eyes but with one’s heart. The plot follows a pilot whose crash in the desert leads to him to stumble across a boy prince from a faraway asteroid.

children's books le petit prince

Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Written by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and first published in 1943, the work has become one of the most well-known and universally treasured children’s books from the 20th century, having sold more than 200 million copies today in roughly 300 languages.

Moomins (Mumin)

Conceived and brought to life in a series of fantastical Swedish-language children’s books and comics by Finnish-born, Swedish-speaking author Tove Jansson, the Moomins (Mumin in Swedish) are a family of lighthearted and whimsical hippopotamus-looking creatures with large snouts who live an idyllic life in their home in Moominvalley. Behind the characters’ peaceful lifestyle of sleeping and eating, Jansson questions societal taboos and weaves in deeper, philosophical messages about the nature of family.

The series inspired a Moomin museum and theme park in Finland and has been adapted and incorporated into theatre, magazines and television in more than 60 countries around the world.

The Adventures Of Tintin (Les Aventures de Tintin)

Tintin is the titular character of a Belgian comic albums written by the author Georges Remi under the pen name Hergé. Les Aventures de Tintin follows the adventures of a young Belgian reporter, crime-buster and traveler named Tintin, his loyal dog Snowy and a motley crew of characters as they embark on fantastical adventures in lands real and fictional to solve mysteries. It’s popular with adults and children alike.

Though the ideas and narratives behind some of the works carry imperialist and culturally insensitive overtones that were typical for their time, Tintin is considered one of the most renowned European comic series of the last century and has been translated from the original French into roughly three dozen different languages.

Max And Moritz: A Story Of Seven Boyish Pranks (Max und Moritz — Eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen)

Written and illustrated by Wilhelm Busch in the mid-19th century, this story is told in rhyming couplet and features two mischievous boys named Max and Moritz who play evil, terrible tricks on the people around them. The pranks are amusing, but the story’s conclusion emphasizes the moral and often painfully tragic consequences of one’s actions.

children's books max und moritz

Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Max und Moritz helped pioneer the art of comics and inspired countless other artists and authors, especially in the United States. Today it’s a cultural icon that has been one of the most beloved children’s stories for German speakers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland for the past 150 years — even though Busch never fully intended for the darkly humorous story to be for children in the first place.

The Bossy Gallito (El gallo de bodas)

Published in 1994, this Cuban classic folktale retold by Lucía M. Gonzáles tells the story of a bossy rooster who must clean his dirty beak before he attends the wedding of his uncle, a parrot named Perico. The story emphasizes the importance of helping others and showing gratitude even when you don’t have to.

El gallo de bodas was written originally in Cuban Spanish and is a great resource for teaching Spanish-English bilingual children because of its glossary and anecdotes about Cuban cultural heritage.

The Adventures Of Pinocchio (Le Avventure di Pinocchio)

The 1940 Disney-fied Pinocchio traces his origins back to the 1883 book by Carlo Collodi, whose real name was Carlo Lorenzini. The original book features the same wooden puppet whose nose grows longer when he tells a lie. Pinocchio, a marionette crafted in Tuscany by the puppeteer Geppetto, dreams of being a real human and is characterized by his frequent fibbing and his naughty and mischievous misadventures. His story encourages children to work hard and not to shirk responsibility in the interests of having fun.

children's books pinocchio

Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Today Pinocchio is one of the most recognizable figures in children’s literature. Behind the Bible, Le Avventure di Pinocchio is the second most translated literary work of all time, having been adapted into more than 250 languages.

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