By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok
I visited the Bangkok International Book Fair last week with a writers’ group. We wandered among publishers’ and booksellers’ booths at Queen Sirikit Convention Center much as wordsmiths do at Tokyo International Book Fair in Odaiba. My steps slowed, as usual, at the children’s titles.
I enjoyed thumbing through the Thai picture books, which included a hilarious take on a revered animal, the elephant. I looked at “wisdom stories” about a boy who helps his neighbors during a flood; brings in laundry unasked during a squall; and extends old pencil stubs by rolling the non-point ends in scrap paper and securing with rubber bands.
I also checked out the books in translation. Young adult novels from the US—such as Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron series, Veronica Roth’s Divergent books, and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle—were available in Thai-language editions.
I also saw picture books from Japan, including Akiko Hayashi’s Hajimete no otsukai (available in English as Miki’s First Errand), Taro Gomi’s ubiquitous Minna unchi (in English, Everyone Poops), and many titles that sell in Asia but not yet in the English-reading world. These include the Hyakkai date no ie (A House of 100 Stories) series mentioned by Publishers Weekly last year and the charming Nontan series for toddlers.
When I viewed the displays of Japanese books in Thai translation, I recalled some remarks by Yurika Yoshida of Japan Foreign Rights Centre to SCBWI (see pages 12-14 of this PDF), about how Japanese titles for children and teens often make it into other Asian languages, but not English.
Nonetheless, as I stood at a row of Japanese picture books available in Thai, I could imagine them dotting displays of favorite bookstores in my native US. I could see them taking their place there, entrancing readers with stories of a country they may not have visited, which in heart miles is not all that far from home.
I left the fair inspired to bring more children’s literature from my second language into my first. The event helped me see how someday, the titles I saw here might greet me when I travel elsewhere overseas. Thank you, Writers Rock (especially author MG Edwards) and Bangkok International Book Fair, for a glimpse of the possible.