Planet Picture Book

Belgium

Aha, at last a country where I have had no difficulty in locating English translations of contemporary picture books!

This is partly due to the fabulous indie publishing house, Book Island, now based in Bristol (UK). Founded in 2012 by Belgian-born translator Greet Pauwelijn, it specialises in unique titles from around the globe, including, unsurprisingly, a beautiful selection of picture books from Belgium. The Picturebook Makers blog and gallery has also proved, yet again, to be a valuable source of information on picture books with real substance, as have various “best of worldlit for kids” lists.

Within Belgium, a range of subsidies, including funding for translation, are available for publishing Dutch (Flemish) and French picture books in other languages. This is of particular importance in a small market where publishing solely in one language is not cost-effective – all the more so given that Belgium has three official languages. Dutch (Flemish) is spoken in the north of the country while most of the south is French speaking. The Brussels-Capital region is bilingual Dutch and French. German, the third official language accounts for less than 1% of the population and is spoken within the eastern province of Liège in Wallonia.

The children’s picture book scene is active throughout Belgium. IBBY (The International Board on Books for Young People) has both Flemish and French branches. The Flemish branch is affiliated with Iedereen Leest (Everybody Reads) which organises a range of events to “get Flanders reading”, including a children’s book week in March every year and a Read Aloud week in November. The French branch organises events for children in collaboration with the Centre for Youth Literature in Brussels. It also publishes a quarterly review on literature for young people, Libby Lit.

It so happens that the three titles I have selected for Belgium were all originally written in Dutch:

Maia and What Matters by Tine Mortier, illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire, translated by David Colmer (Book Island, 2013)

Timeline by Peter Goes, translated by Bill Nagelkerke (Gecko Press, 2015)

Applesauce by Klaas Verplancke, translated by Helen Mixter (Groundwood Books, 2012)

I had hoped to include a picture book by Kitty Crowther, the 2010 winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Born to a Swedish mother and British father, she grew up in Belgium and was educated in the French school system. Very few of her books, however, are currently available in English. Four titles in her Poka and Mia series for early readers can now be purchased through TATE Publishing in the UK. US publisher Enchanted Lion released Scritch Scratch Scraww Plop in late 2015. The titles that really caught my eye, however, Mère Meduse, Le petit homme et Dieu and Annie du Lac, have yet to be translated into English. Now, there’s an opportunity!

I also overlooked another very talented author/illustrator from French-speaking Belgium in my initial research: Anne Herbauts. She has had several picture books published in English by Enchanted Lion, including Monday, Prince Silencio and What Color is the Wind? I hope to have the opportunity to read titles by both these authors during my picture book journey.

[Image: Grand Place, Brussels. Source: www.canva.com]

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