Great children’s books – as recommended by World Kid Lit

Below you will find some wonderful books recommended by Ruth and Claire of World Kid Lit. (You can read an interview with them here.) The first five listed are already available in English, the following five are ripe for translation into English.

We also link to our funding information and highlight some recent children’s and young people’s books which had funding support from the Goethe-Institut.

New Books in German is not currently accepting submissions of children’s and young adult books, but you can see those previously selected by the jury and eligible for translation funding support by clicking here.

Available in English Translation

Robert and the World’s Best Cake 

by Anne-Kathrin Behl, translated by David Henry Wilson (North South)

Robert and his Dad have the day off. Robert decides he’s going to bake a cake and have a big cake party. He’s going to invite his dad, all his cuddly toy friends and Mopsi the dog, of course. But just as he’s finished the invitations a gust of wind blows them into the street. What will happen next? The illustrations in this book are superb and challenge stereotypes: Robert’s dad has a big ginger beard and tattoos and yet he sits knitting and gets stuck in baking an enormous cake. As well as a football and a robot, Robert has a pink pushchair with a dolly in it – it’s so great for boys to see this represented on a page!

Meet at the Ark at Eight!

By Ulrich Hub, illustrated by Jorg Mühle, translated by Helena Ragg-Kirkby (Pushkin Press)

A delightful and surprisingly philosophical read, this is the story of two penguins trying to smuggle their friend, the little penguin, on to Noah’s Ark, because they could hardly leave him behind, could they? Never mind that they didn’t ask before they stuffed him into a suitcase, or that they’re only really allowed hand luggage.
Full of brilliant dialogue, and irreverent, quarrelsome characters, this hilarious story asks all the questions children ask about the world around us. Why do penguins have wings if they can’t fly? And why would they need to go on the ark if they can swim? With illustrations on every page, it’s perfect for 7+ to read alone, or to read with younger children, and for prompting long conversations about life, the universe and everything.

No One Can Stop Don Carlo

By Oliver Scherz, translated by Deirdre McMahon (Dedalus Books)

Carlo has been missing his Papa for five months and six days, ever since Mama threw him out. Papa keeps promising to come and visit, but never does, so Carlo decides to go and see him instead. The only problem is that Carlo and his Mama live in Bochum, Germany, and his Papa is now back in Palermo, Sicily, 2000 miles away. And Carlo is only 11. 

Dressed in a smart suit and tie to persuade himself he’s big and brave like a gangster, Don Carlo, our ill-prepared hero sets off on a suspense-filled, epic adventure across Europe, helped along by his bemused fellow passengers. This short novel is perfectly formed and superbly translated by Deirdre McMahon, and will keep readers coming back for more. As Carlo’s friend Pietro says, “From the start, Carlo. Avanti, avanti!”

Anton and Piranha

by Milena Baisch, translated by Chantal Wright (Andersen Press)

If, like most of us in this pandemic, you had a pretty boring staycation summer, maybe you’d rather read the story of a holiday from hell to make you feel better about not going anywhere? Anton realises with horror that the caravan park where he’s trapped for a week’s holiday with his grandparents has no swimming pool, just a hideous, slime-filled lake.

 A contrary, awkward and quick-tempered young teen, Anton makes enemies of the other kids and, with only a fish in a bucket for company, finds his week going from bad to worse. Until the final day when he discovers that the lake is a cool place to swim after all, and then of course they have to drag him home. Translator Chantal Wright has a gift for capturing comic moments and the authentic voice of the young narrators.

The Edelweiss Pirates

By Dirk Reinhardt, translated by Rachel Ward (Pushkin Press)

Fiction 12+

The book is based on the real life story of the Edelweiss Pirates, informal group of young people who were opposed to the Nazi regime in Germany. When Daniel meets the elderly Mr Gerlach in a cemetery, his curiosity is piqued and he begins visiting him, hearing stories from his youth. Growing up during Hitler’s rise to power, Josef Gerlach and his best friend Tom were expected to join the Hitler Youth. Over time, their mildly rebellious activities became increasingly dangerous and political, bringing the youngsters to the attention of the SS and the Gestapo. As translator Rachel Ward said in an interview with World Kid Lit, this is “a really important story to tell.”

Suitable for translation into English

In mir drin ist’s bunt / Everything within me is colourful

by Theresa Bodner, Tyrolia Verlag, May 2020

This is a wonderful picture book from Austria which is all about exploring feelings. Rather than being a picture book with a story, it’s a celebration of synonyms and idioms and offers the perfect opportunity to discuss different ways of expressing our emotions. Each page takes a different emotion – anger, frustration, happiness, shyness – and explores the words we use to describe that feeling. Great for encouraging children with emotional literacy, the accompanying illustrations of brightly coloured birds also open up conversations about body language and reading other people often without the use of words.

*This title isn’t listed by NBG, so it doesn’t have guaranteed assistance with English language translation. However, it would be worth getting in touch with the relevant funding body for an informal conversation about the possibility of support.*

Junior fiction

Robin vom See / Robin of the Lake 

by Ulrich Fasshauer, Magellan Verlag, February 2019

Robin is a resourceful nine-year-old boy who lives with his father by a lake, where they run a holiday camp. When Robin finds a mobile phone containing a disturbing video, he realises a classmate is being cruelly victimised and he and his best friend Nils decide to set matters right. They are repeatedly thwarted, but eventually manage to resolve a longstanding feud between local families.

This is a pacy adventure with a cheeky and lovable protagonist. It explores the hot topic of cyberbullying whilst sharing the enduring appeal of classic tales like Swallows and Amazons. The link to the New Books in German recommendation is here.

Drachenerwachen / Dragon Awakening

by Valija Zinck, Fischer KJB, July 2018

When Ms Tassilo takes the wrong suitcase home from her holiday, she gets more than she bargained for: a mysterious casket containing a dragon egg. She and the children from the flat downstairs are drawn into an adventure when it becomes clear that a big multinational company wants its dragon back in order to exploit it as a power source when fossil fuels run out. They manage to escape the company’s clutches, but the dragon has been tagged, and nowhere is safe…

Valija Zinck skilfully blends modernity, creativity and humour, and Dragon Awakening should delight fans of Cornelia Funke and Cressida Cowell. The link to the New Books in German recommendation is here.

Teens/young adult

Hinter Glas / Behind Glass

By Julya Rabinowich, Hanser Verlag, 2019

Alice, who is named for Lewis Carroll’s heroine, breaks out of the apparently gilded, privileged cage of her family life and forges her own resilient and mature way, dealing with vindictive school bullies and a relationship with an older boy. When this relationship breaks down, Alice has an epiphany and manages to convince her parents that they too are trapped by the tyranny of her manipulative grandfather. An optimistic thread runs through this empowering coming-of-age novel, and Alice’s strong sense of idealism will resonate with any young people who are trying to navigate difficult moral choices. The link to the New Books in German recommendation is here.

33 Bogen und ein Teehaus / 33 Arches and a Teahouse

By Mehrnousch Zaeri-Esfahni, Peter Hammer Verlag, September 2016

This work of autobiographical fiction provides a child’s-eye view of the Iranian Revolution. Its wealth of political, geographical and cultural detail cover the narrator’s early childhood in Isfahan, the strictures and punishments of the Islamic Revolution and the experience of fleeing to Germany and living in a huge, dehumanising refugee hostel. The book has an engagingly light touch and a timeless perspective that will resonate with young people and adults. It may well become a real classic! The link to the New Books in German recommendation is here.

And one more tip…

Our Writer Annie Rutherford says, “A children’s book I’d love to translate is Die Erstaunlichen Abenteuer der Maulina Schmidt: Mein kaputtes Königreich by Finn-Ole Heinrich. It’s one of my absolute favourite children’s books, a wonderfully heartfelt story with a hilarious heroine and plenty of wordplay which I’d doubtless tie myself up in knots over!”

Twelve-year-old Paulina’s world falls apart when her mum announces that she has split up with Paulina’s dad. They move out of the family home into a small terraced house with funny plastic handles everywhere, and her mum eventually breaks the news that she has an illness that will mean she loses the use of her legs and arms. She needed an accessible home (hence the handles) and has separated from her husband to avoid being a burden to him. Paulina is shocked, but draws on her considerable inner resources to cope with the huge changes that lie ahead.

This book is outside of the five-year window for guaranteed assistance with English language translation. We suggest getting in touch with the Goethe-Institut for an informal conversation about the possibility of support. 

Funding information

Books that have been chosen by the New Books in German jury within the last five years are eligible for translation funding assistance. For books, including those above, which have not been selected by New Books in German, or which are outside the funding period, we recommend contacting the relevant funding body.

Where books are written by authors living in Germany, funding requests and queries should be directed to the Goethe-Institut.

The Goethe-Institut welcomes grant applications from publishers of quality translated titles for children and young adults – titles which aim to both educate and entertain.

Annemarie Goodridge, Information Officer, Goethe-Institut London

In the last three years, the Goethe-Institut has have supported the translation of these titles:

Browse children’s and young adult books with guaranteed translation funding here

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