Bilingual Picture Books

This is a recommended list of bilingual picture books. The books chosen are not just bilingual but are chosen because the books are written in the original language and also have an English translation. We have not included any books which have been translated from English into many different languages. For example The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into at least 20 different languages. Instead we wanted to choose books reflecting the culture of the people speaking that language. In some cases the books have only a smaller proportion of the book written in another language but in these cases they do give us revealing information about words or characters or expressions in the other language. So far this is a small selection of mainly Asian and Indigenous language books. We shall add to the list as we come across more suitable titles. Recommended by Kate Shepherd and Mandy Clarke

My First Book of Korean Words: An ABC Rhyming Book by Henry J Amen, Kyubyong Park & Aya Padron (illus) hb 9780804842730 $14.99
Introduces young children to Korean language and culture through everyday words used in rhyming text, one word for each letter of the English alphabet. Each word is shown in Hanguel (Korean script) and its romanized form. There are also brief cultural or linguistic notes on each page and a basic pronunciation guide at the front of the book. Illustrated throughout. (4-7 or 8 years) MC

Also in this series:
My First Book of Japanese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book by Michelle Haney Brown & Aya Padron (illus) hb 9784805312018 $14.99
My First Book of Chinese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book by Faye-Lynn Wu & Aya Padron hb 9780804843676 $14.99

Korean Folk Songs: Stars in the Sky & Dreams in Our Hearts by Robert Sang-ung Choi & Samee Back (illus) (Book & CD) hb 9780804844680 $17.99
Fourteen simple traditional songs with lyrics in English and Korean (Hanguel and the romanised version). Each song is introduced with a little historical and cultural information and is accompanied by a musical score arranged by the author, a music teacher. The children’s songs in the collection have suggestions for actions and gestures. There are lovely watercolour illustrations throughout, and a 30-minute CD of all the songs. (4-9 years) MC

Night/Raat by Junuka Deshpande pb 9788181464484 $12.00
The illustrations in the book are so striking, just in black and white and grey. The text is minimal with just one or a very few words in English and also in Hindi. However the pictures do tell a story set in India of a bus that breaks down in the forest at night. Two children get out of the bus and they are suddenly aware of all the shadows, the sounds and creatures in the forest all around them. There is a strong sense of wonder at the natural world conveyed by these simple but compelling illustrations. I am sure that children would be inspired by the book to make their own black and white illustrations of the night. (4 – 8 years) KS

The Water Dragon A Chinese Legend by Li Jian hb 9781602209787 $19.99
The story of a small boy who found a shiny red magical stone and dreams that he must set off to find the water dragon in order to save his village from drought. He has many adventures on the way. Beautifully illustrated and with text in Chinese and in English. (6 – 9 years) KS

The Horse and the Mysterious Drawing: A Story in English and Chinese by Li Jian hb 9781602209848 $19.99
This is a story about a small boy and a skinny white horse and how the white horse showed the boy the secret of how to farm and to plant crops in accordance with the rules of the seasons. (5 – 8 years)

Mulan: A Story in English and Chinese by Li Jian hb 9781602209862 $19.99
The legend of Mulan and her bravery and skill as a warrior is told in this beautifully illustrated picture book. (6 – 9 years)

Ming’s Adventure in the Forbidden City by Li Jian hb 9781602209855 $19.99
Told in English and Chinese. Ming and his father visit the Forbidden City in Beijing. When Ming passes through a mysterious gate he goes back in time to the ancient Forbidden City and finds himself being escorted by guards to the palace where the Emperor lives. The Emperor is just a young boy like himself and so Ming draws pictures of cars, planes and rockets as he describes his modern world, and the excited young Emperor takes Ming on a tour of his favourite places in the City. On the endpapers of the book is a plan of the Forbidden City, showing Ming’s route and the places mentioned in the book, and at the end is a Cultural Explanation of those places. (6-8 year olds) MC

D is for Doufu: An Alphabet Book of Chinese Culture by Maywan Shen Krach & Hongbin Zhang (illus) pb 9781885008169 $21.00
An exceptional book which gives an insight into the pictographic nature of the Chinese language through 25 Chinese words and phrases. It gives a fascinating historical and cultural background through well known words such as kungfu, feng shui or more complex words like “ai” meaning “love” where the explanation shows some of the cultural differences between Chinese and western ways of thinking. Wonderful illustrations in the style of Chinese folk art. (9 years up) KS

H is for Hong Kong: A Primer in Pictures by Tricia Morrissey & Elizabeth Briel (illus) hb 9781934159132 $23.00
English and Chinese. A cross between a small format picture book and a large format early reader, this lovely book describes elements of daily life in Hong Kong: skyscrapers, trams, ferries, fishermen, dim sum, eggballs, lions and dragons in the New Year parade…. On each page is an illustration with a couple of evocative, often playful, lines of text in English.
Bird cage
Songbirds in cages swaying overhead serenade the teahouse with warbling chatter.
Underneath is the Chinese translation using both characters and the romanised version. Wonderfully atmospheric illustrations perfectly compliment the imaginative language. (5-8 or 9 years) MC

Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life at Ardiyooloon by One Arm Point Remote Community School hb 9781921248238 $29.95
Ardiyooloon (One Arm Point) is a remote coastal community in Western Australia, north of Broome, and is home to the Bardi Jaawi people, who have lived in the area for thousands of years. The children of One Arm Point Remote Community School have made this book about their lives and culture, and it is a fascinating mix of traditional stories, cultural history, knowledge about fishing and bush tucker, and practical advice on how to make such things as boomerangs and bough shelters and how to treat snake bite. The book abounds with photos and artwork, and Bardi words with their English meanings are sprinkled around the borders of each page. A pronunciation guide appears at the beginning of the book, along with an acknowledgement of the important role the Elders have played in keeping the traditional culture and language alive. (9-12 years) MC

Upside Down by T R Rajesh pb 9788181466723 $11.00 (Bilingual in English and Hindi)
This simply written picture book was originally written in Malayalam, the language of the state of Kerala in south east India. The brightly coloured illustrations show lush trees, animals, water and the way of life in rural Kerala. The text is very simple (in English and in Hindi) and describes each illustration. “An elephant near the temple.” “A cow in the street.” “Children going to school.” However it is a little puzzling as each illustration is upside down. The reason is shown in the final illustration showing a small bat hanging upside down in a tree. This is how the bat sees the world. Lots to discuss about the different view of the world as well as the lush rural life of Kerala. The book is available in English with one each of seven different Indian languages. (3 – 6 years) KS

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein & Ed Young (illus) hb 9780316118255 $28.99
As soon as you discover this book opens vertically, you sense that it is a most unusual picture book. Wabi Sabi is a plain, brown cat who wants someone to explain the meaning of her name. No one can really enlighten her, so she sets off to see a wise old monkey who lives on Mount Hiei. Through her journey, and the old monkey, she eventually comes to understand, and so do we, that wabi sabi is the concept of finding beauty in common, simple, ordinary, often imperfect things. The story is told in the tradition of haibun, where short prose passages set up the haiku that follows. At the end of the book there's a short history of the concept of wabi sabi, haiku and haibun, and translations of the decorative haiku that appear throughout the book in Japanese script. The wonderful collage illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the story. (7-11 years) MC

Margaret and Margarita / Margarita y Margaret by Lynn Reiser pb 9780688147341 $13.00
This story of two young girls, one English and one Spanish, is told in English on the left hand page and in Spanish on the right hand side of each double page spread. When the two little girls meet at the park, they begin by saying hello and then as they introduce their toys in either Spanish or English, they find they can understand each other and then they start to play and have a lot of fun. This is a charming story very well thought out and constructed and it also has an appealing liveliness ensuring that we learn quite a few new Spanish or English words. (4 – 8 years) KS

Tokyo Friends - Tokyo no Tomodachi by Betty Reynolds hb 9784805310755 $27.00
This is an excellent introduction to Japanese language and culture and also some of the differences between Japanese and western customs. When Katie meets her two Japanese friends in Tokyo, they show us some of the everyday things that they do and the Japanese and English words for them. The words are written in English, in Japanese phonetically and also in the Japanese script and are accompanied by lively illustrations. (6 - 12 years) KS

Squeamish about Sushi and other food adventures in Japan by Betty Reynolds pb 9780804838351 $14.99
Written in a similar entertaining format, this is a more detailed exploration of the intricacies of eating sushi and other food in Japan. (12 years up) KS

Hello Ocean: Hola Mar by Pam Munoz Ryan & Mark Astrella (illus) pb 9780881069884 $14.00
English and Spanish. In rhyming text, a young girl describes the joys of a day at the beach with her family. Her five senses are working overtime! She sees, hears, feels, smells and tastes the ocean. The text on each page is in English and Spanish, and the illustrations are done in a very realistic style which captures the bright blue day and sparkling water. (4-8 years) MC

Noongar Mambara Bakitj an old story retold by Kim Scott, Lomas Roberts and the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project with artwork by Geoffrey Woods and Anthony Roberts pb 9781742582955 $24.95
The story involves a young man who follows a kangaroo track deep into the old peoples’ country. Along the way he meets some spirit people “mambara” and they fight with boomerangs until the young man realizes that he is a magic person and is able to defeat the “mambara”. The illustrations are striking, with black outlines against a bright, ochre-coloured desert background. However, it is the text which I found the most interesting. As well as the descriptive retelling of the story in English, it is also told in Old Noongar (the Aboriginal language from South-West Western Australia), and under each of these words is the literal English translation. It is fascinating to see how the sentences are structured, and the stark simplicity of the story in the Aboriginal version compared with the longer, more detailed and descriptive retelling in English. A CD retelling the story in both English and Noongar is available on the website: Understanding how this story came to be retold and work-shopped in community meetings is also fascinating and is described in detail at the end of the book. There is also a Glossary of Noongar words and their meanings. (9 years up) KS

Ma-Me-Mi-MuMu! By Jomike Tejido (English translation by Fran Ng) pb 9789716301755 $22.95
This picture book in Filipino and English gives us a glimpse into Filipino folk culture with its many scary monsters. A little girl imagining different monsters everywhere in her house is comforted by her grandfather who gives her funny rhymes about each monster to repeat, such as “If Bungisngis wanders in, let the kitchen solve your jitters. Feed him sweets like ice cream, yam and banana fritters!” At the end of the book a further description of the ten supernatural creatures is shown. Lively illustrations add to the vitality of the book. (4 – 7 years) KS

Alphabetong Filipino by Nicanor G Tiongson & Crispin Dayao Junior (illus) pb 9789716301748 $26.95
A brief introduction explains the development of the Filipino alphabet. Since each object chosen to illustrate the letters of the alphabet represents something about the country’s past or present culture or everyday life, we gain an insight into Filipino life. There are also examples from city and provincial life. A short description accompanies each letter and provides more information. At the end of the book, there is more information about the development of the Filipino alphabet which has undergone many changes since the time of the indigenous alphabet, before the time of the Spaniards in the 1560s, to the present time. (6 – 9 years) KS

My Village: Rhymes from around the World by Danielle Wright (collected by) & Mique Moriuchi (illus) hb 9781847806277 $32.00 pb 9781877467103 $19.99
Danielle Wright has done such an excellent job in choosing this appealing collection of nursery rhymes from round the world. Nursery rhymes can be nonsensical, even in the original language but she has chosen rhymes with an emphasis on rhyme and rhythm and things that we do or hear or feel or sing. My favourite is the rhyme Rain from the Norwegian. I have no knowledge of Norwegian but the desire to read the rhyme aloud in a sort of Norwegian is irresistible.


One is one, two is two, En er en, og to er to,
In water we hop vi hopper i wand,
On sand we drop. vi triller i sand.
Zick, zack. Zik, zak.

Some of the rhymes are written in English then in for example Japanese or Chinese … and then in Japanese or Chinese characters. We also get to see various scripts such as Persian, Japanese, Chinese and Russian. The illustrations are delightfully playful and have a childlike quality. A list of credits at the back of the book explains the derivation of the rhymes and the translators. This is a very appealing book of rhymes and songs from round the world chosen and translated in such a way that makes them as Michael Rosen says in his introduction, “accessible to an English-speaking audience.” (4 – 7 years) KS

Also collected by Danielle Wright are the following Asian collections of nursery rhymes.
Japanese Nursery Rhymes: Carp Streamers, Falling Rain and other traditional favourites illustrated by Helen Acraman hb 9784805311882 $19.99 (includes an audio CD with songs in Japanese and in English)
These fifteen lively rhymes have an emphasis on the natural world. Danielle Wright includes short notes to explain particular words or events. Colourful illustrations. The verses are in Japanese script and show examples of Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana as well as in Romanized from and in English. KS
Korean Nursery Rhymes: Wild Geese, Land of Goblins and Other favourite Songs and Rhymes illustrated by Helen Acraman hb 9780804842273 $19.99 (includes an audio CD with songs in Korean and in English)
These fourteen nursery songs are much loved in Korea. Many of the rhymes are accompanied by play activities such as jump rope or hand clapping games.
For teachers of Japanese and Korean who can talk about the rhymes and explain the background and read them in the original language, the books will be very helpful. However the English translations do not contain much rhyme or rhythm and so I find are difficult to read aloud. Of course the audio CD will bring the rhymes to life. KS

Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes by Faye-Lynn Wu & Kieren Dutcher (illus) hb + CD 9780804840941 $19.99
Favourite rhymes are grouped in pairs, one in Chinese and the other in English. The rhymes have been carefully chosen and the English translations are lively and have a strong rhythm. Shows some similarities between the two cultures as so many of the rhymes are about similar subjects. The Chinese is in simplified Chinese characters as well as in pinyin and also in English. (3 – 6 years) KS

The Lost Horse: A Chinese Folk Tale by Ed Young pb 9780152050238 $13.00
This beautifully illustrated retelling shows how something that seems to be very good fortune can quickly change and similarly what seems to be bad fortune may not be such a good thing. The subtle elegant illustrations are reminiscent of traditional Chinese painting. The story is also narrated through beautiful Chinese calligraphy at the beginning of the book. (4 – 8 years) KS