Books and stories teach us to be shapeshifters

by Lantana Publishing on September 30, 2020

Cornelia Funke, award-winning fantasy author of the bestselling Inkheart and MirrorWorld series, on the magic of reading books in translation. We are delighted to welcome her to our blog on International Translation Day!

Books teach us to be shapeshifters. That is their most magical gift. 

They train us to see the world through someone else’s eyes. They make us walk in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes they even give us fur and feathers. They can teach us how it feels to be very old or very young, what it is like to be a boy or a girl - just by giving us characters we love so much that we slip into their skin and follow them through whatever adventure and task they’ll encounter.

BUT and this is a heavy BUT…most times the books you read were written by someone born in the country you live in, speaking your language, living a life quite similar to yours. Very often the writers have your colour of skin, they wear your kind of clothes, and live in your kind of house. Even when they pretend to be a cat or a dog or a dragon. Or someone from outer space.

Cornelia at the beach in Malibu, where she lives - with Adolfo Cordoba and Mariela Sancari, two of her artists in residence and creative collaborators. Her sister Insa and her husband Michael (the ones up right) fill her website with magical content and will also run the Spiegelhof, a place for young artists she intends to launch next year in Germany

I was born and raised in Germany. Not many people in this world speak or write in German. So the books I took home from the library in my little town mostly came from other countries. I did of course never think about that, as they were translated. Without noticing it, I became a world traveller. Tom Sawyer took me to America and down the Mississippi. Pippi Longstocking and the Brothers Lionheart made Sweden my second home. The Narnia books made me spend so many enchanted hours in England that everything felt so familiar when I first came there that I thought I had been there before! 

But still….England, Sweden, even America is in some ways quite similar to Germany. What about China? Madagascar? Peru? What about Syria? India? Nigeria? All of these countries have magical storytellers who could teach us to walk in their shoes and see the world through their eyes for a while. But they write in languages most of us can’t read! And why translate stories when there are so many written in English?


Ayesha Gamiet, brilliant illuminator from the UK, teaching kids from Downtown LA. Ayesha stayed three months as artist in residence at Cornelia’s farm and taught everyone a few secrets of classical Islamic illumination and how to make color from pomegranate and avocado.

Well, why do we like to eat spaghetti and pizza? Why is it often so much more exciting to go to a Chinese or Indian restaurant?

It makes our heads and hearts wide and wise to read books that make us walk in truly different shoes. Books that make us change the colour of our skin and see the sun and the moon through truly different eyes. Books written in another tongue still hold that other taste between their pages, spices we never tasted before, colours and sounds of far away places, even when they have been translated into English.

Stories that come from far away make us realise that there are a thousand ways to be human on this planet.

They open our eyes to the differences and similarities between us all. They make us world travellers, even world citizens, at home on distant shores - because a book gave us friends on those shores.

Ayesha, Cornelia and the kids with the results from the workshop:)

I still remember, how magical it was to come to Sweden for the first time and to remember the adventures I had had there with Pippi and so many of Astrid Lindgren’s heroes. England still whispers to me the promise of magical wardrobes. I have seen it with Charles Dickens a long long time ago, with Shakespeare and so many others – because there were translated books in the library of my small home town in Germany. Those books opened windows for me, through which I could see so far.

Imagine if your room suddenly had a window, through which you can climb and be in India! Or the jungles of the Amazon. Those windows exist. But they remain closed, as long as we read only our own stories and don’t translate stories told in other tongues. They are treasure chests waiting for us. Let’s find them!

Let’s be at home everywhere in the world. And when someone comes to our country, in foreign clothes, speaking a foreign tongue, we may be able to say: Oh, I have been to your country. I had a few adventures there. Please tell me more.


Check out our books in translation - and have them all at 19% OFF when you buy our Celebrating Kid Lit in Translation Bundle! A fun and fascinating collection of books celebrating multicultural and multilingual diversity! A special offer for WorldKidLit Month and International Translation Day 

*Available until 31st October*

Click HERE.



Cornelia Funke is a storyteller and illustrator. She is published all over the world in so many languages, that she feels sometimes as if she got lost in her own stories. She is German but lives in Malibu, CA - and in all the worlds she explores with her readers. Learn more about Cornelia and her wonderful books from her website.



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