Friday, February 6, 2015

Bilingual Board Books

Keith Baker
Photo credit: L. Cunningham

A great board book presents an idea or concept in simple terms, with artwork or photographs that support it. In Big Fat Hen / La gallina grande by Keith Baker, the author-artist counts from one to 10 using a well-known rhyme ("One, two, buckle my shoe") to do just that.

Translater Carlos E. Calvo chooses Spanish words that rhyme and that also add a touch of humor. For instance, when a blue hen lays four eggs and examines three worms ("three, four/ tres, cuatro"), the newly hatched four chicks, together, "shut the door/ cerramos la puerta un rato." Calvo indicates that it takes them awhile with the addition of the phrase "un rato," which also rhymes with "cuatro."

Creating a strong board book is not easy. The amount of text needs to be minimal, so youngest children who are just learning to identify letters, and perhaps sight words, can follow along. The illustrations need to support the text, rather than confuse toddlers who are just learning to name the people and objects in their world.

Bilingual board books add another layer of challenge because the words need to closely correlate to the words in English yet still be words that would be used in everyday conversations. Big Fat Hen accomplishes all of that -- simple, lively text with illustrations to support the counting concept, and a Spanish translation that's equally lively and allows both native Spanish speakers and native English speakers to experience the other language as naturally as possible.

Here are a few more bilingual board books or early picture books that several of my colleagues at the Bank Street College of Education found to be especially strong: Las fresas son rojas by Petr Horácek; My School / mi escuela by Rebecca Emberley; My Colors, My World / Mis Colores, Mi Mundo by Maya Christina Gonzalez; My Skeleton Family by Cynthia Weill, illus. by Jesús Canseco Zárate.

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