2020 GLLI Translated YA Book Prize

 The Beast Player, by Japan’s Nahoko Uehashi (translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano; Henry Holt & Co.) and Maresi Red Mantle, by Finland’s Maria Turtschaninoff (translated from the Swedish by A. A. Prime; Pushkin Press/Abrams Books) are co-winners of the 2020 GLLI Translated YA Book Prize.

Administered by the Global Literatures in Libraries Initiative, the two-year-old prize recognizes publishers, translators, and authors of books in English translation for young adult (YA) readers. 

The winning books were selected from a field of titles translated from 13 languages and representing 19 countries, from Iceland to India. Works published within three years of the submission deadline were considered. 

The prize is was announced on International Children’s Book Day, which falls on April 2, the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen. Fewer young adult (YA) books are translated into English than any other category of children’s literature, and the prize aims to bring attention to gems of world literature for teens. 

“The worldwide spread of the Covid-19 pandemic shows just how interconnected we have become,” said GLLI Director Rachel Hildebrandt Reynolds, “There couldn’t be a better time for teens to develop a global perspective on issues of concern to them, and reading is a great way to do that, especially when everyone is spending so much time indoors right now.” 

The committee also selected two honor books:

Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin, translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) – Norway 

Luisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel, translated from the French by Nanette McGuinness (Life Drawn) – France 

Members of the prize committee include Annette Y. Goldsmith, chair and international youth literature specialist; Abigail Hsu, Morristown & Morris Township Library; David Jacobson, author and translator; Lynn E. Palermo, Susquehanna University; Kim Rostan, Wofford College; Elaine Tai, Burlingame Public Library; and Bobbie Xuereb, MiraCosta College. They were assisted by GLLI Director Rachel Hildebrandt Reynolds. 

A relatively new award, and I’m hoping it will spark energy and interest in translations including those from greatly underrepresented regions of the world.

Thanks to David Jacobson for sending this news.

New Translated YA Book Prize winners

Thank you to David Jacobson for letting me know about these books, newly recognized by the Global Literatures in Libraries Initiative.

Here is the announcement from the GLLI press release: 

My Brother’s Husband: Vol. 1 & 2, by Japan’s Gengoroh Tagame (translated from the Japanese by Anne Ishii; Pantheon Books) is the winner of the inaugural GLLI Translated YA Book Prize. Administered by the Global Literatures in Libraries Initiative, it is the first prize to recognize publishers, translators, and authors of books in English translation for young adult readers.

mybrothershusbandUnknown.jpegMy Brother’s Husband is a two-volume manga that gently but effectively guts homophobia in Japanese society. When Mike, the Canadian husband of Yaichi’s late brother shows up on his doorstep, Yaichi is courteous but standoffish, while his young daughter Kana is thrilled to meet her gay uncle.

“The committee loved this sweet, nuanced story of coming to terms with one’s own prejudices and embracing a truly modern family,” said committee member Annette Y. Goldsmith.

Books in translation have received greater attention in recent years, thanks in part to the National Book Foundation’s new prize for translated literature, but they still amount to a paltry three percent of all books published.

“Books in translation for young adults remain a tiny fraction of even those in translation,” said GLLI Director Rachel Hildebrandt Reynolds, “There is an urgent need for greater international understanding and cross-cultural empathy among our young people. Reading books can help bridge those gaps.”

Three honor books were also selected. They include: La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono, translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel (Feminist Press) – EQUATORIAL GUINEA

Piglettes by Clémentine Beauvais, translated from the French by the author (Pushkin Children’s Books) – FRANCE

Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lövestam, translated from the Swedish by Laura A. Wideburg (Flatiron Books) – SWEDEN

The winning books were selected from a field of titles translated from 13 languages and representing 13 countries, as far afield as Equatorial Guinea, Bangladesh and Norway. Works published within three years of the submission deadline were considered. The prize will be presented at the American Library Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., June 20-25, 2019.

Members of the prize committee include Annette Y. Goldsmith, international youth literature specialist; Gene Hayworth, University of Colorado; Kim Rostan, Wofford College; Laura Simeon, Kirkus Reviews; and Elaine Tai, Burlingame Public Library. They were assisted by GLLI Director Rachel Hildebrandt Reynolds.

The Global Literature in Libraries Initiative brings together translators, librarians, teachers,editors and others dedicated to helping librarians identify and raise the visibility of world literature for children, teens, and adults. Our activities include creating pan-publisher catalogs; maintaining a database of translations; sharing ideas for selecting, evaluating, using and promoting world literature for all ages; and administering the GLLI Translated YA Book Prize.

Hurray for these books without borders and for the publishers who have now brought them to new readers and markets.

“In the sea, they will hold funerals”

In case we are tempted to think of the  1990s as a cultural wasteland defined by incongruous clashing motifs and Prozac Nation, let us remember that was the decade that launched National Poetry Month. On the steps of a post office in New York City, we are told, with a reading of T. S. Eliot’s (what else?) The Wasteland, which begins:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

David Portrait 3Mixing memory and desire. Apt words to tap the yearning, unerring poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, best beloved Japanese children’s poet and a symbol if there ever was one of beauty emerging from sorrow. David Jacobson is the author of Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, a picture book that not only speaks with honesty and grace about the poet’s life but also includes translations of some of her poetry. I asked David a few questions about his lovely book:

[Uma] Every book begins with a writer’s longing or a dream. What was your journey with this book?

SallyCover copy

Sally Ito, translator

Michiko portrait

Michiko Tsuboi, translator

[David] The dream came to me a year or so after I became acquainted with Misuzu’s poetry. Probing into her backstory, I learned of her tragic life, and was startled to discover that she was virtually unknown in North America.  I couldn’t believe she had been so overlooked, even by academics.  (I have subsequently been shocked to learn how few children’s authors from Japan get translated into English: only about 6 a year!)  I then made it my mission to spread the word about her through this book.  Fortunately, I was able to assemble a team of those who felt the same way: translators Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi and illustrator Toshikado Hajiri.

Toshi portrait

Toshikado Hajiri, illustrator

We are all so thrilled that the book is starting to reach those who never heard of Misuzu before, especially those who don’t have a particular interest in Japan.


[Uma] The opening poem, Big Catch, is so brilliant and so startling in how it suddenly throws the reader off kilter, plunges us into empathy in spite of ourselves. And I loved how you framed this book so a child of the 20th century serves as witness to this older life. How did these layers of narrative come together for you?

[David] From the start, there were a lot of elements I wanted to include in this book:  Misuzu’s life story, the story of her rediscovery, the tsunami, and most of all, lots of examples of her poetry, in both English and Japanese.  Others tried to dissuade me from doing all this in a single book, but my publisher, Bruce Rutledge, supported me, partly because he and I felt that this might be our one and only chance to introduce Misuzu to the English-speaking world.  Given all those elements, we knew from the start that we would need to divide the book into a narrative section and a poetry section, and then within the narrative create a frame within which we could introduce Misuzu’s life story.  So the story laid itself out, and we just had to fill in the blanks.  Looking back at my first draft, I see that the structure was there from the beginning, but the specific text has changed dramatically.

[Uma] Tell me about the work you did with Sally Ito, the translator. 

[David] The work I did with Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi constituted the real core of putting the book together. We all stretched beyond our nominal roles in the project. Though ostensibly “translators,” Sally and Michiko made extensive textual and content-related edits to the narrative, which is why they got additional credit on the title page.  Though “author,” I edited their translations of the poetry and challenged their interpretations of the Japanese.  Over the course of about 4-5 months, we produced some 40 drafts of the narrative and multiple drafts of each poem (including a number that weren’t included in the book).  Michiko, who is Japanese born and bred, was a little shocked, I believe, by our occasional disagreements over wording.  But I think our close and sometimes confrontational collaboration, cemented by our mutual love for Misuzu’s poetry, made it a better book.


[Uma] Thank you, David, for sharing some of the background to Are You An Echo? A literary life revealed for young readers, along with exquisite poetry, all in a lovingly crafted picture book container.

More from David on Sally Ito’s work translating Misuzu Kaneko’s poetry.