Planet Picture Book


2018 is a big year for Latvia. On 18th November, this small Baltic state will celebrate the centenary of its proclamation of independence from Russia. Festivities are already well underway, with an impressive array of events on the schedule, including films, concerts, exhibitions and participation in the London Book Fair, which has a special market focus on the Baltic countries in 2018.

The National Library of Latvia will host a multi-media performance later this month as part of the centenary programme. ‘Patterns of Light’ is ‘a dedication to the next century in Latvia’ according to Director Viesturs Meikšāns. It sounds fascinating – and what a setting for a contemporary show, too! The National Library of Latvia, or Castle of Light as it is also known, is a stunning work of architecture. Designed by Latvian-American architect Gunārs Birkerts, it opened its doors in 2014, some 25 years after it was originally conceived. Birkerts took inspiration from a Latvian play ‘The Golden Horse’, where a peasant climbs a mountain of blue glass and green ice to wake a sleeping princess and save the kingdom. The building is seen by many as a symbol of the country’s independence from Soviet rule.

I started looking into children’s literature from Latvia late last year when the beautifully bright smudgy tones of a book cover appeared in my Facebook feed. Indie publisher Book Island were announcing the forthcoming publication of One House for All by Inese Zandere, illustrated by Juris Petraškevičs. I snapped it up!

Finding additional picture books in translation from Latvia proved to be a real challenge, so I have stretched the boundaries a little to include a wonderful collection of illustrated poems by Ieva Flamingo, illustrated by Vivianna Maria Staņislavska. The Noisy Classroom was released last year by UK poetry publisher The Emma Press. I am super-excited to share both of these titles with you in more detailed posts – to follow soon!

I think we will see more children’s books in translation coming out of Latvia in the next few years.* The country is certainly taking a proactive stance on promoting its literature abroad. Check out the tantalising showcase of kid lit on the Latvian Literature platform, which features book covers and brief story outlines in English. Grants are also available for international publishers and translators of Latvian works. I have been particularly intrigued by the Bikibuks series of poetry picture books – all 101 of them! Perhaps one day soon, these poems, beloved by several generations of Latvians, will be accessible to English-speaking readers, too. I hope so! In the meantime, let’s enjoy the fabulous titles I have selected for our first visit to the Baltic states:

One House for All by Inese Zandere, illustrated by Juris Petraškevičs, translated by Sabīne Ozola and adapted by Lawrence Schimel (first published in Latvian in 2014 by liels un mazs; this edition, Book Island, 2017)

The Noisy Classroom by Ieva Flamingo, illustrated by Vivianna Maria Staņislavska, translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini, Sara Smith and Richard O’Brien (first published in Latvian in 2015 by Pētergailis; this edition, The Emma Press, 2017)

*Note: I edited this line on 21 January 2018. The previous version published on 8 January 2018 was misleading and I would like to apologise for any confusion caused. 

[Image: National Library of Latvia by Gedvillo Photography, made available under a creative commons licence. Source:]

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