Students in International Schools often speak several languages. Supporting their language development, and love of reading in any language, through books is important. Many books are available in different languages but finding books printed in two languages is harder. Here are some of my favourites.
I became aware of the power of bilingual books when one of my own picture books, Stepping Stones, A Refugee Family’s Journey, was published in both English and Arabic. I found it fascinating to see how well that works – the story is now one that Arab speaking children can share with their families, that English speaking people can read but also one that shows a new script and writing method to many. When doing school visits, students are fascinated by the different languages and refugee kids often are seen as very smart when they can actually read those unfamiliar sentences. Here are more books that use language in addition to story and art. ISBN 9781459814905, Orca Book Publishers
Aqui era el paraiso/Here Was Paradise by Humbert Ak’abal celebrates Mayan poetry. The poems are in both English and Spanish. Ak’abal is an indigenous poet from Guatemala who wrote his work first in K’iche’, the language of his childhood. The poems in this collection focus on nature, the natural environment and life in the Americas. Written for adults, the art in this book makes it accessible for readers of all ages and it’s a treat of speakers of both English and Spanish. ISBN 978-1-77306-495-6, Groundwood Books
A River of Words, The Story of William Carlos Williams, written by Jen Bryant, art by Melissa Sweet. This is a picture book biography of an American poet, published in English only but based on the power of language. As a child, William listened, observed and absorbed life around him. He became a doctor but wrote poems on his prescriptions pads and stayed up late at night to write, to play with language. He had 48 books of poetry published. This one is incredibly beautifully illustrated in Melissa Sweet’s iconic collage for papers, letters and images. A joy to share with readers to show the power of following your heart. ISBN 978-0-8028-53-2-8, Eerdman Books
When I was a child I loved folk and fairy tales. I devoured books by Grimm and Anderson in Dutch. I liked the morals these stories told. Idries Shah knew the power of storytelling perhaps better than anyone. Shah grew up speaking many languages. As writer and philosopher he became the leading voice of Sufism in the 20th century – retelling century old stories which have now been produced as contemporary, colourful picture books in many languages. These Teaching Stories and based on an ancient art form and especially designed to develop human thinking skills and perception.
- The Clever Boy and the Terrible, Dangerous Animal, Idries Shah, illustrated by Rose Mary Santiago, is the story of a boy who visits a nearby village where the people are terrified of an unusual ‘beast’ in the field. The clever boy recognizes it as a watermelon. He ‘slays’ the beast and hands delicious slices of fruit to the astonished villagers. He also shows them how to plant seeds to grow more watermelons. Published in English and Dari. ISBN 1-883536-18-9
- The Farmer’s Wife is a cumulative tale about the woman who tries to convince animals (and objects) to do what she wants. In the end the bee and the cat and the dog and the bird, and many more, all do as she wishes. Told in English and Arabic. ISBN 978-1-946270-27-6
- The Man With Bad Manners is the tale of a man who does not behave properly so a boy thinks of a plan to teach him a lesson. A colourful picture book in English and French. ISBN 978-19462-7055-9
- Published in English and Urdu, illustrated by Jeff Jackson, The Silly Chicken is a tale of learning a new language and using your brain. ISBN 978-1-942698-79-1
All Hoopoe books have available teacher guides and activities to supplement the reading: https://hoopoebooks.com