Children’s Books in Translation

A good twenty-five years ago, I translated a children’s story I loved (“Anna the Hobbledy-Witch” by Franz Fühmann) and sent it to Cricket Magazine, which I’d read throughout my childhood (starting with Issue 1 Number 1 in 1973) and which had often published work in translation. This was a story about a young witch who had legs of two different lengths, on account of which she was cruelly teased, but then she learned that her special legs gave her special powers, which she put to use … happy end. Anyhow, I got back a letter from Cricket saying that it was tricky to publish anything for kids these (= those) days involving disabilities, and that witches were kind of off-limits too, so I gave up. And started thinking about how few children’s authors from my own childhood traveled internationally. In the 1990s, Dr. Seuss wasn’t readily available in German. A few books of his had been translated into German in the 1970s and were long out of print – they didn’t become perennial favorites as in the U.S. Now, though, there are (re)translations of a number of Seuss’s works available in German, published and translated by several hands (including one translated by  author Felicitas Hoppe). I wonder how they’re doing. Conversely, American children are oblivious to the existence of Janosch, an author as wildly popular in the German-speaking countries as Dr. Seuss was/is here. Janosch’s books, too, had been translated into English in the 1970s and 1980s, hadn’t caught on, and had gone out of print. Eventually in the first decade of the 2000s, his German publisher started publishing new translations of his lovely books into English by the great Anthea Bell.

At the same time, there were always children’s books that fared well internationally. Think of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a longstanding classic in many languages. And a number of the large publishing houses in the U.S. (e.g. Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster) have children’s book divisions that sometimes publish kid lit in translation. Not long ago, I stumbled across some lists of 100 great kids’ books in translation put together by translators Avery Fischer Udagawa and Marcia Lynx Qualey.

A number of independent publishing houses in the U.S. have been getting into the kids-books-in-translation game, too, and since I don’t know much about this but want to learn, I asked Sara Lissa Paulson, the librarian at City-As-School who is also coincidentally translating several Spanish-language children’s books into English, to say something about the current state of affairs. Here’s her report:

Independent Publishers of International Children’s Books

By Sara Lissa Paulson

Children’s publishing is booming worldwide. That we know, but it may not be apparent that children’s literature is profoundly poetic, philosophical, and full of wonder, and like literary fiction, found in every language. Children’s books from beyond our borders promote empathy and cross-cultural understanding, yet they tend to lie outside the radar of most translators and publishers.

That said, several outstanding independent publishers have been translating children’s literature for decades:

Enchanted Lion Books, Brooklyn-based, has been publishing translations and original books in translation since 2003. Their website highlights translators, authors, and illustrators, reflecting the thoughtful and generous approach to both language and image crafting. Their care and love of book-making (and young readers’ meaning-making) has resulted in dozens of publishing awards and more than a handful ALA Batchelder awards and honors, given annually to the best translated children’s book published in the US. Look for the announcement of the 2019 winner on January 28 at 11 a.m.!

Groundwood Books, based in Toronto, specializes in underrepresented cultures, especially from the First Nations of Canada and other languages of the Americas. Like Enchanted Lion, they publish original books as well as translations.

Gecko Books, a press in New Zealand, primarily publishes translations, but also publishes New Zealand authors and illustrators.

England’s Pushkin Press started Pushkin Children’s in 2012, which specializes in translating middle grade novels and has curated a beautifully illustrated series of world lit classics worth checking out called Save the Story.

Phaidon, the outlier on this list due to their multilingual output, publishes design-oriented children’s books in translation each year.

And independent publishers Chronicle and NorthSouth have brought unforgettable European titles into the English-speaking world.

 Most recently, Restless Books publishes children’s books in translation, Archipelago opened its doors to kid lit by establishing Elsewhere, its non-profit imprint for “visionary children’s literature,” while Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, the Dutch-American publisher in the religious publishing business since 1910, continues to publish a select number of books in translation each year that present emotionally complex issues that children face courageously each day.

Horn Book regularly blogs about children’s books in translations, as does School Library Journal. IBBY creates a biennial honor list of the best international children’s titles, while the International Youth Library publishes the White Ravens annual list of international gems and maintains a database of honored titles that can be searched by year of selection.

Follow the green-lighted trails to find out more, and consider turning your translating pens children’s-lit-ward.

Share this!

Comments are closed.

© Susan Bernofsky 2010-2018. All rights reserved. "Translationista" is a registered trademark.