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Children’s Literature in Translation: Levine Querido

By Words Without Borders

In recent years, a proliferation of books in translation for children and young adults has brought imaginative stories from around the world to new readers. We’re speaking with some of the extraordinary publishers who make these books possible about their experience working in this vital field.

For the seventh installment in the series, we spoke with Arthur Levine, founder of Levine Querido.

WWB: What inspired you to found Levine Querido? 

Arthur Levine (AL): Mainly I wanted to focus all of my work energy on the things that inspired me most—my conviction that my own country contains a dazzling multitude of points of view and backgrounds that have previously been marginalized; a truth that is echoed in dominant US attitudes toward the rest of the world’s cultures, languages, writers, and artists. I am so excited to make beautiful, powerful books that uplift those voices, and that will move, inspire, and entertain young American readers. 


WWB: Is there a particular theme, focus, or aesthetic that the children's books published by Levine Querido share?

AL: As far as theme, I’d say that it’s almost a central ambition that there NOT be one theme. We are acutely aware of the danger of the “single story,” and we want to take care that no one group be limited to a well-worn groove. I do think there might be a noticeable aesthetic at work—I hope, for instance, that our production values are always top-notch, that our jackets are unusually beautiful and creative, that the writing is always exceptionally strong . . . but each book can embody those aesthetics in its own particular way.


WWB: What are you looking for in a children’s story as a publisher and as a reader? What do you think draws a child into a story? Do you think that a good children’s book will always have some appeal for adults as well? 

AL: I could write a substantial essay on each of those questions! If I had to name one thing that I look for as a reader and a publisher, it’s strong emotion. Even if the book is funny or informational, if it doesn’t turn a key to the safe of my heart, then I don’t really care. And I don’t think that fact changes as we grow from childhood to adulthood, though the locks to our hearts may move higher up the door along the way.


WWB: What have been some of the most exciting aspects of the undertaking so far? What (if any) have you found to be the most challenging aspects of publishing children’s literature (as opposed to literature for adults)?

AL: I think it’s been incredibly exciting to return to a kind of purity in artistic and editorial decisions . . . to keep those separated from financial decisions (or rather to embrace the idea that if one’s artistic and editorial decisions are strong enough, they will lead to financial success). I haven’t ever published adult literature, so I can’t comment on how that might present different challenges from publishing for young people.


WWB: Are there any underrepresented languages or countries that you’re particularly drawn to, and are there literary traditions in children’s literature from other countries that you’re keen for Levine Querido to share with English-language readers? 

AL: Oh gosh, it’s such a huge world out there, with talent in places that I can’t even name right now. I think that there must be a treasure trove of Chinese storytelling, given that country’s great literary tradition. I haven’t yet translated anything from Arabic, and I’m so eager and curious to find out what it looks and feels like to be a young person in countries that speak Arabic. I’m very proud and delighted that we at LQ have made inroads into accessing some great literary talent in Mexico and Central and South America. The list goes on and on . . . !

Two pages from Peter Van den Ende's The Wanderer.

WWB: Do you think there has been a general upsurge in children’s publishing in recent years? If so, what do you think has brought it about?

AL: I don’t think any one thing brings about a sustained rise in interest. But I do think the Harry Potter books exploded many of the myths we had about the limitations of children’s books—how long they could be, how many copies they could sell, whether they could be read by an entire family, from a middle school child to a retired veteran, whether a book series could cross borders and cultures . . . even whether hardcover books published for children could be successful in bookstores! 


WWB: What is a new or forthcoming title that you are looking forward to sharing with readers?

AL: Everything Sad Is Untrue (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri, the story of a young Iranian boy who becomes a refugee, came out in August and has been a huge sensation, as has Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, a mystery-fantasy-coming-of-age tale of a Lipan Apache teenager who is tasked with finding justice for a murdered cousin. In October, we published a ninety-six-page wordless picture book by debut Belgian artist Peter Van den Ende, called The Wanderer. That book is already winning awards in the US.


WWB: What's next for Levine Querido? 

AL: A debut novel called Second Coming by André-Naquian Wheeler, about a teenage boy facing the possible end of the world, and who is also maybe dating Jesus. A debut picture book by Catherine Min called Shy Willow, about a rabbit who chooses to make a scary journey rather than let down a little boy. The start of a fabulous, funny series called Popcorn Bob by Maranke Rinck, illustrated by Martijn van der Linden, which features a smart, creative girl named Ellis, and the grumpy, mischievous popcorn kernel that comes to life, gets her in trouble, and steals her heart. Oh, and there’s more… 


Arthur A. Levine founded Levine Querido in April 2019, after a twenty-three-year tenure as president and publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. He founded Arthur A. Levine Books in 1996, coming over from Knopf Books for Young Readers, where he had been editor in chief. His determination to bring a diverse selection of "The Best of the World's Literature for Young People" to American readers was the guiding principle in all of AALB’s publishing since its beginnings, and continues to be the guiding light at Levine Querido. This mission resulted in the introduction to North American audiences of the work of great writers such as J. K. Rowling, Markus Zusak, Nahoko Uehashi, Daniella Carmi, Luis Sepúlveda, and Jaclyn Moriarty. Arthur sees this search for great writers from around the world as a continuum with Levine Querido’s search for diverse, powerful, unique voices and visions from the multitude of cultures closer to home. In addition to overseeing the company, Arthur edits between eight and ten books annually.

Levine Querido publishes two lists: the Arthur A. Levine list, seeking out the writing and artwork of exceptionally talented creators, with a distinct focus on building a platform for previously underrepresented voices; and the Em Querido list, a partnership with the renowned Dutch publisher to find the most outstanding authors and artists from around the world, aiming to keep the legacy of Emanuel Querido alive and flourishing.

Read more interviews with publishers of children’s literature in translation

Published Nov 17, 2020   Copyright 2020 Words Without Borders

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