Outstanding International Books

I’ve been reviewing books for USBBY, the United States Board of Books for Young People, part of the International Board that advocates for literacy and children’s literature around the world. Here are a few books I loved that USBBY honored as Outstanding International Books.

Chanchani, Vishakha. The House That Sonabai Built. Photographs by Stephen P. Huyler. Chennai, India: Tulika. Picture book biography.

Sonabai Rajawar, a young mother forced by her husband to not leave her home in the Indian village of Puhphutara, begins to fill her days working with the natural clay she found near the well where she washed clothes. From this beginning, Sonabai developed her original clay human figures, birds, snakes, animals, and delicate latticework called jaali.  This story follows Sonabai’s art from the time she is a young mother until her recognition as one of the great artists  of India. 

Daly, Niki. Thank You, Jackson. Illustrated by Jude Daly. London: Francis Lincoln Children’s Books.

The South African writer and illustrator team, Niki and Jude Daly, create a story about a farmer, his wife Beauty, his son Goodwill, and their donkey Jackson. They live in an unnamed African village.  Jackson, heavily laden with farm produce, climbs the hill with the farmer to get to the market, as he has done every market morning of his life. One day Jackson stops half way up the hill and refuses to budge until the farmer’s son, Goodwill, arrives to help with a lesson of the heart.

Guilloppé, Antoine. Like a Wolf.  Translated by Géraldine Elschner. Hong Kong: Michael Neugebauer Publishing/Minefield, 2015. Originally published as Tout d’unloup in French.

A caged dog tells his own story of loneliness and hunger for companionship while knowing people fear him and his wolf-like cry.  A shepherd comes and says he looks like a shepherd dog, and he invites the dog to come with him.  The dog is then transformed by having a chance to live in the openness of fields and sky. He has a life of running and tending sheep in deep companionship with the shepherd.

Agard, John. Book, My Autobiography. Illustrated by Neil Packer.   Candlewick Press, 2015. The protagonist begins, “My name is book and I’ll tell you the story of my life.”  In a lyrical voice, Book explains that before writing came oral storytelling.  “Before Book there was Breath.” In small, illustrated chapters Book guides the reader through periods of its history distinguished by papyrus, feathers, Gutenberg’s moveable type, the paperback book, and the coming of the e-book. 

Cohen-Janca, Irène.  Mister Doctor: Janusz Korczak & the Orphans of the Warsaw Ghetto. Translated by Paula Ayer. Illustrated by Maurizio A. C. Quarello.  Toronto:  Annick Press. Originally published as L’Ultimo Viaggio in Italian by Orecchio Acerbo.

In 1940 Janusz Korczak marched and sang with 170 orphans when the German Army forced them to move from a Warsaw orphanage to the “the other side,” the Jewish ghetto. Korczak was a physician, children’s book writer, musician, and fierce advocate for the orphans in Warsaw. The children called him Mister Doctor. The story is told from the point of view of one of the children who Korczak sustained and championed until 1942 when Nazis established extermination camps where they were sent. “We were saplings ripped violently from the earth. We never became trees…” (52)

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