5 Brazilian Portuguese children’s books to Start Reading Portuguese
You’ve probably gotten this advice somewhere — read Brazilian Portuguese children’s books if you’ve never read anything else.
The logic is, because those books were written for children they must be easy.
After all, children only get easy stuff, right?
Modern children’s books are easy — there is no doubt about it. But they aren’t just easy.
Since technology now allows us to produce books as interesting as this [YouTube; see after 1:50], with pictures and sometimes even sticking noses — there is less space for sentences.
Thus, children’s books tend to have shorter sentences that are easily digestible.
And because most of those volumes are aimed at little children — whose knowledge of the world around them is just starting to grow — the authors tend to be (though not always) attentive to the kind of words they choose.
They challenge the children a little bit but they tend to be considerate about that.
(But you can certainly find books that take children for granted and offer them crap.)
In this case, you can count on their having only basic vocabulary with some expansion on that.
And the third thing is — the written language is different from the spoken language.
And children don’t have the experience of a voluminous reader like you.
This means that the authors tend to stick to simpler structures for paragraphs and sentences.
But can I dive into Brazilian Portuguese children’s books as a beginner?
If we are talking about the classics in this list, I very much doubt it.
Our Brazilian tradition has it that children’s books will be enjoyable and understandable by both adults and children. No concessions are made — the vocabulary might be simpler but it by no means lessens the sophistication.
And who are those books for?
If you are mildly comfortable with conversations but sometimes you make the odd mistake…
And feel your vocabulary is lacking…
Those books might be for you.
An exclusive list.
You’ll see the list is short.
It’s only five books and none of them have been published last year.
That’s because I chose them according to the following criteria:
They must be used in Brazilian schools — in this way you can guarantee that those books have been vetted by professionals. Most children who were educated in the 80s and 90s (and sometimes their parents) know them.
They must be interesting — and that’s quite a subjective assessment.
I enjoyed greatly those books growing up. And I still enjoy them to this day.
I include them here as affiliate links because that’s how I keep this website running. But this fact doesn’t influence me in my choice.
If you ever decide to purchase one to get started reading, try to find at least a sample before.
Although my assessment tends to be pretty accurate, I cannot guarantee it’s valid for everybody.
A Terra dos Meninos Pelados (third book on our list), for example. I do not recommend it but to those really eager to read more advanced stuff and who find themselves at the intermediate level and above.
It’s originally for children, but it’s quite complex in its language.
How should I go about reading Brazilian Portuguese children’s books?
These are two ways you can play this game.
You can focus on one paragraph or page at a time and extract as much juice as you can from it. — That’s intensive.
Or you can just sit back and relax flipping through the pages of an interesting book with pictures. — That’s extensive.
I’ve talked about those two ways to play this game before. For a more in-depth discussion (and more tips) you can go here.
And no matter how you play this game, you’ll want to have a dictionary and a notebook.
You can dispense with the notebook if you are willing to write on the books themselves.
But you’ll want to write longhand — make notes, write down sample sentences, and keep examples.
One last note — parallel texts.
None of those books are parallel texts and I do not advise you to use them.
Unless you want to dwell on the intricacies of inter-linguistic translation, observe different syntax and how you would express more complex and finer ideas in Portuguese, you’ll just waste your time.
If you want to use the knowledge you acquire to speak the language in a way that a significant and useful, use the language as it comes.
Oh, Eli, but I can use the parallel text to let go of the burden of understanding.
Nice idea, but if you don’t want to have any burden reading in Portuguese why do you want to read in Portuguese?
It’s like exercising. It first tires us out, then it becomes easier.
If you ever feel tired you can always put the book aside and rest.
(I’m not against using translation in learning Portuguese — I use it myself. It’s just that it should be used where it belongs.)
1. Menino Maluquinho — Ziraldo
Brazilians who grew up in the 1990s got to know “O Menino Maluquinho”, “the cray-cray boy”. It was a “charge” — pronounced “sharzh”, a kind of drawing that distills some message, usually political or comical in nature. You could see “charges” frequently showing up in newspapers — the funnies section — and on Portuguese textbooks to help children learn Portuguese and reading comprehension.
What not many people know is that O Menino Maluquinho was originally a book by the cartoonist Ziraldo.
O Menino Maluquinho has a lot of imagination. He is described “adjective by adjective” throughout the book.
“Era uma vez um menino maluquinho. Ele tinha o olho maior do que a barriga. Tinha fogo no rabo. Tinha vento nos pés e umas pernas enormes (que davam para abraçar o mundo)”.
Once upon a time, there was a little crazy boy. He had an eye bigger than his belly. He was always restless. He had wind on his feet and long legs (that he could use to hug the world).
The rough translation I provide doesn’t do justice to the inventiveness of the author.
He makes a play on words and popular expressions that we use on a daily basis.
- Ter o olho maior que a barriga. To be a glutton, but not be able to eat everything. Also, to want to have something that you’re not able to have.
- Não se pode abraçar o mundo com as pernas. You can’t do everything. You have to choose.
- Ter fogo no rabo. To be excessively eager, but because of the word “rabo” (the tail, the rear) it also has a sexual connotation.
You can see that from the first line this is a difficult book.
I would give it a 4/5 on a difficulty scale, five being very hard.
2. Marcelo, Marmelo, Martelo — Ruth Rocha
Children are naturally curious — some more than others.
Why is the sky blue? Why does the rain fall?
Now imagine a child who questions why a word means what it means.
Marcelo, Marmelo, Martelo is a delightful story written by Ruth Rocha, a popular author of children’s books in Brazil.
Marcelo is a young boy who out of the blue wants to know why we use the word table to talk about the table rather than using “chair” to talk about the table… And why do we call a wall a wall and not codfish?
Ruth Rocha teaches children basic linguistics and etymology in one of the best-selling children’s books in Brazilian history.
This is a rather simple book for small children. It should not be difficult for you. And because it has lots of colorful illustrations it will be much easier for you to read.
And if you have kids and want to teach them Portuguese — maybe your husband or your wife speak Portuguese as a native language — this is essential.
I would give it a 2/5 on a difficulty scale.
3. A Terra dos Meninos Pelados — Graciliano Ramos
Why aren’t we all equal? Raimundo wonders.
It so happens that Raimundo has one blue eye and one black eye. And he’s bald. The children and adults in the neighborhood consider him strange and ostracize him.
And since he’s been alone for so long, Raimundo comes up with a world in which he doesn’t feel so lonely. He gets to know other characters. They make him realize it’s okay to be different.
Upon leaving prison, the author Graciliano Ramos wrote A Terra dos Meninos Pelados. He is widely known in Brazil as an author of “mature” fiction. But this book has become so popular that the Ministry of Education awarded it with the Prêmio Literatura Infantil and to this day it’s used in Brazilian schools.
It’s important to note it was written under a dictatorial regime, o Estado Novo. So the themes reflect what was common back then (and now, it seems).
The book has some pretty advanced vocabulary — but they are all high-frequency vocabulary as well.
Sometimes the author includes regional expressions — and you’ll need friends to help you with them — but if you already read some fiction in Portuguese, you’ll like this book.
It’s course 5 out of 5 on a difficulty scale.
4. Maria Vai Com as Outras – Sylvia Orthof
Maria Vai com as Outras is also a common idiom — a “maria vai com as outras” is a person who doesn’t have opinions of their own. They follow whatever orders they are given and they do whatever the group is doing.
This idiom came about when Brazil was still a Portuguese colony. It’s widely known all over the country.
And Mary goes with the others is about a sheep called Maria who didn’t have her own opinions. Maria did whatever the herd did.
You might imagine what kind of dramatic situations she might put herself into.
Sylvia Orthof has other children’s books that are popular, but this one has a lasting effect on whoever reads it.
It’s actually a very simple book — the illustrations are funny and the story is enjoyable.
I’ll give you a 2.5 out of five on the difficulty scale. The 0.5 comes from some specific vocabulary you’ll find in it.
5. Chapeuzinho Amarelo – Chico Buarque
While the little red riding hood is known for being curious and intrepid, Chapeuzinho Amarelo is a girl who is afraid of everything.
She’s even afraid of her own shadow!
But things start to change when she learns the Portuguese word for wolf, LOBO.
It’s a good book to practice the past and perfect in Portuguese.
And although it’s pretty short it might be challenging because of the vocabulary.
But it’s informal most of the time and immediately usable in conversations.
I would give it a 3/5.
Before you leave, I want to share some things.
But of course, in my assessment I take into account that you speak either English or Spanish as a native language.
If you speak other languages you might find some books either harder or easier to understand.
And again, if you’re just starting out these books will be too overwhelming for you to take in.
In time I will have a solution for you. But right now, all I can suggest is practice.
And if you’ve read any of those books, what do you think about it?
And if you know any other books that are interesting for children, leave its title in the comments section below — and if you can tell us a little about it.