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The Batchelder Awards are amongst the most popular and widely utilized awards for international YA – especially in North America, due in large part to the general prominence afforded the American Library Association (ALA)’s list of yearly awards (including the Batchelders, the Alex Awards, the Printz Awards and others). The Batchelder Award is awarded annually to the 1 children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States (Batchelder Awards, 2009). The award is also given to the American publisher who published the book in translation.

The Batchelder also nominates 1 to 3 ‘honor books’ and publishers each year for their noteworthy achievements. The Batchelder Awards are named after Mildred L. Batchelder, a former executive director of the Association for Library Service to Children, and 30 year member of the ALA who believed that the promotion of international books in translation could better foster understanding and acceptance across national and cultural borders (Batchelder Awards, 2009).

The ALA established the Batchelder Award in 1968, but prior to 1994 the award was only given solely to the American publisher of the book in translation — not to the book or original author. This precedent of awarding American publishers was part of an effort to support and encourage the publication of books in translation that can be a costly and time-consuming process for publishers—issues that still result in a lack of books in translation (Batchelder Awards, 2009). As noted by educator Gretchen Schwarz in 1996, “finding [international YA] titles is easier than obtaining books…[e]specially [because] books in translation may never come out in paperback, and they go out of print very quickly.” The scarcity of titles that Schwarz’s comment refers to is also found in recent publishing statistics: in a 2006 review of Publishers Weekly and other publishing resources, authors Maczka and Stock estimated that at any given time, the number of translated titles on US shelves may account for only 2-6% of total books (pp. 49-54).

Given these challenges, what books and publishers are the Batchelder Award honoring? This year’s award was given to Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. for Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, by Nahoko Uehashi and translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano (click here for my review of Moribito). This title was originally released in Japan in 1996, and was later made into a successful Japanese anime in 2007 (Anime News, 29 April 2009).

This is the 2nd time in 2 years that a Japanese novel has won this award—in 2008, Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe also won the Batchelder. Brave Story is about a 10 year old boy who tries to change his destiny by undertaking a magical journey. Like Moribito, Brave Story was very successful in Japan upon its original publication and spawned a popular anime film (Anime News, 16 January 2008).

However, prior to Moribito and Brave Story winning in 2009 and 2008 respectively, the 27 previous Batchelder award winners and honored books of the past 10 years (since 2000) have almost exclusively been from Europe, save for 2 winning entries in Hebrew from Israel—2001 Batchelder winner Samir and Yonatan and 2004 Batchelder winner Run, Boy, Run. Beyond this, representation from Europe disproportionately favors Germany and France, which have 8 nominations/wins each since 2000. Furthermore, since the awards inception in 1968 there has been only 1 Spanish language entry (a 1994 win for The Apprentice by Pilar Molina Llorente) and one Turkish entry (a 1995 honor book for Sister Shako and Kolo the Goat by Vedat Dalokay).

Given these oversights, it is useful to remember that ‘the best’ that the Batchedler recognizes is very culturally and linguistically defined.

It does not cover international countries that originally publish in English such as Australia, India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and many others.

It also does not cover a broad range of countries or regions.

Since the award’s inception in 1968, only the following countries have been nominated or received the ultimate prize (# in parentheses indicates how many times the country has been nominated and/or won the award):

* Denmark (2)
* France (10)
* Germany (23)
* Greece (3)
* Holland (6)
* Israel (5)
* Italy (2)
* Japan (4)
* Norway (2)
* Russia (1)
* Spain (1)
* Sweden (5)
* Turkey (1)

No countries from Latin America, Africa or Asia (save Japan) have ever been nominated — and Germany has won and/or been nominated 23 times since 1968 — or roughly 35% of the time.

Given these oversights, as well as the Batchelder Awards lack of range within language and country groups (of the 5 times that a Hebrew language book has won or been honored, 4 of those books have been the work of author Uri Orlev), I think that any library should use this list as a good starting—not ending—point to compiling a list of great international YA.

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