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So here I am, at the beginning of the Blogathon and having picked a theme with plenty to write about. But why children’s literature in translation? Partly because I know about it, partly to raise awareness of it, partly because there’s more of it out there than you might think.
Translating children’s books shares the same challenges as translation for adults when it comes to tricky cultural references, “untranslatable” words and concepts, ambiguities, grammatical structures and so on. It also brings extra dimensions of its own, however. Two factors pointed out by Riita Oittinen in Translating for Children are that children’s books are often illustrated and often intended for reading aloud. I stumbled across both these issues in my early forrays into translating for children.
For a student project, I worked on a translation of Janosch’s Post für den Tiger (German link). When the Bear and the Tiger invent postboxes, my reaction was to say “and they painted them red” instead of yellow – the books aren’t set in any particular country and red would be more familiar for British children. But turn over the page and there’s a lovely big picture of them putting little yellow boxes all over the forest. So yellow they had to remain.
Another example: I translated Fips’ Birthday before I had children. I read the translation through to myself and it sounded fine. Once fils aîné came along, though, and I found myself regularly reading it aloud to him, I realised that it just didn’t flow. Quite embarrassing. I have now rewritten my translation for reading aloud, should the publishers produce a new edition.
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On the other hand, translating for children also has many benefits and advantages. Children are generally hugely interested in everything. They can be much more willing than adults to explore new worlds and ideas. Philip Pullman has written a foreword to Outside In, Children’s books in translation, eds Deborah Hallford and Edgardo Zaghini (Milet Publishing), which can be read here: on the TES website. In it, he says that reading translated books as a child was “like being at home in a strange land”:
“There are children today in this country who will find a book, or books, in this guide satisfying a hunger they didn’t know they had, and exciting a passion they had no idea they were capable of feeling. We don’t know who they are, and we don’t know which books will have that effect; but if we DON’T offer children the experience of literature from other languages, we’re starving them. It’s as simple as that.” Source: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=2137315