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Looking for a good read in your target language? Chances are one of these stories will be available, considering they are among the most translated stories in the world. Here are my top 8 picks for foreign language reading materials, from children’s books to comics to full-length classics.
1. Harry Potter Series
This seven-part book series follows the wizarding adventures of the world-famous Harry Potter and his best friends Ron and Hermione as they attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This beloved series has sold several hundred million copies, making author J.K. Rowling the only billionaire author in the world. The overarching theme of the struggle against evil can be explored by children (and adults!) of 67 different language backgrounds.
“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” – The wise and wonderful Albus Dumbledore
“Death’s got an Invisibility Cloak?” Harry interrupted again.
“So he can sneak up on people,” said Ron. “Sometimes he gets bored of running at them, flapping his arms and shrieking…”
2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland, this Lewis Carroll masterpiece follows Alice on her trip down a rabbit hole and into an anthropomorphic wonderland where playing croquet with a flamingo is one of the most normal occurrences. Follow Alice down the rabbit hole in 97 different languages.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”
3. The Little Prince
This beloved children’s tale is really a must-read for all ages. The narrator, a pilot whose plane crashes in the Sahara desert, meets a young prince who has fallen to Earth from an asteroid. While the pilot tries to fix his plane, the little prince tells his compelling life story, which is rich with lessons on life, love, and friendship. Readers around the world can (and should!) share in the absurdity of adult life, as this masterpiece by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery is now translated into more than 180 languages, as well as Braille.
“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”
“I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.”
4. Pippi Longstocking
This flame-haired nine-year-old is the star of a series of children’s books by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. What’s not to like about a quirky young girl with superhuman strength who is constantly accompanied by a monkey and a pony? That could explain why children can enjoy Pippi’s adventures in 64 languages. Though, they may know her by one of her many other names, such as: Fifi Brindacier (French), Lína Langsokku (Hungarian), 長靴下のピッピ (Japanese), Pippi Långstrump (Swedish), or Πίπη Φακιδομύτη (Greek).
“But Nightshirts aren’t dangerous,” Pippi assured her. “They don’t bite anybody except in self defense.”
5. The Alchemist
Originally written in Portuguese by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist now discusses the meaning of life (heavy, I know) in 67 languages. Written over a span of only two weeks, the international best-seller follows a young shepherd’s journey to Egypt, following a series of recurring dreams about discovering treasure there.
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked.
“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you will find your treasure.”
6. The Adventures of Tintin
Georges Remi, or should I say Hergé, introduced readers to fictional Belgian reporter Tintin in a series of comic albums in the 20th century. The perfect mix of mystery and comedy made it one of the most popular comics of the time, and it recently was made into a big-time motion picture. But we all know the book (or in this case the comic) is better than the movie, so readers can now follow Tintin and his faithful pooch Snowy as they heroically save the day in 96 different languages.
7. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
The U.S. government sends an expedition to track down a giant sea monster in this science fiction classic by French author Jules Verne. Narrated by Professor Pierre Aronnax, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has been translated into 174 languages, captivating hoards of fans around the world.
“With its untold depths, couldn’t the sea keep alive such huge specimens of life from another age, this sea that never changes while the land masses undergo almost continuous alteration? Couldn’t the heart of the ocean hide the last–remaining varieties of these titanic species, for whom years are centuries and centuries millennia?”
8. The Adventures of Pinocchio
Who hasn’t heard of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet whose nose grows every time he tells a lie? The mischievous marionette, carved by carpenter Gepetto, just wants to be a real boy! He’s also a really big deal—brought to us by Italian author Carlo Collodi, the story of Pinocchio is now available in 260 languages.
“Where are the gold pieces now?’ the Fairy asked.
‘I lost them,’ answered Pinocchio, but he told a lie, for he had them in his pocket.
As he spoke, his nose, long though it was, became at least two inches longer.”
Which of these have you read, and in what language(s)? What other works am I missing that you would you recommend?
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