Tag archives: children’s books in translation

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Children’s books in translation

IBBYI was very lucky to attend the IBBY UK event on books in translation this week. Translator and children’s book expert Daniel Hahn chaired a fascinating panel discussion with Helen Wang, winner of the Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation for her translation of Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxaun; Joy Court, books editor of The School Librarian and co-editor with Daniel of Riveting Reads: A World of Books in Translation; and Sarah Ardizzone, whose renditions into English of a wide variety of French books have won many plaudits and prizes. (I made a very small contribution to the Riveting Reads book, championing Sarah’s superb translation of Alpha by Barroux.)

The panellists talked first about the importance of children’s books in translation. Without them children miss out. They miss out both on books that are culturally specific and books that are universal. Children need books that are windows, doors and mirrors, Joy said, quoting the famous words of Rudine Sims Bishop. Children have the right to be omnivorous, Sarah told us, paraphrasing her own translation of part of Daniel Pennac’s wonderful book The Rights of the Reader.

People often think of translated books as worthy, but thankfully most are not. They are just great reads. Thankfully too, the amount of books available is growing, though publishers rarely see a good financial return on them. Prizes for books in translation raise their profile and give translators the validation they deserve. Books in translation can now be nominated for the Carnegie and Greenaway awards which has increased their exposure. One, Wild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun and translated by Jen Calleja, reached the Greenaway shortlist this year. Hopefully the Riveting Reads publication will also build awareness of the wealth of fabulous titles that children can enjoy.

It was particularly interesting to hear about the role of the translator. Daniel described it as a mix of artistry, craft and creativity. Translators need to be editors. As Joy said, the literary quality of a translated book is all down to the skills of the translator. Translating the words is just the start of the process, Sarah explained. Helen spoke about the work involved – seven drafts to achieve something that reads well. All asserted in one way or another that the key is to be true to the spirit rather than the letter of the original text. Metaphors are apparently particularly tricky. We heard that it is crucial not to over-edit: not to produce a book that is beautiful to read but smoothes out the quirks of the original. The quirks can be what make a book, but translating them into the appropriate vernacular is an extremely hard task.

A great evening, full of insights, and very thought-provoking. Thank you IBBY!