Many of our beloved children’s classics are translations: Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales (recently translated by Jeffrey Frank and Diana Crone Frank, as well as Tiina Nunnally), Italo Calvino’s collection of Italian Folktales (translated several times), Asterix (translated by Anthea Bell), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (translated by Katherine Woods), Tove Jansson’s Moomins books (translated by Elizabeth Portch, Thomas Warburton, and Kingsley Hart), and Astrid Lindgren’s wild, red-headed Pippi Longstocking (translated by Edna Hurup). These books, brought carefully into English, have enriched our mental and emotional landscapes. They’ve changed our way of seeing what’s possible, what’s human, and what’s funny.
Childhood is a time of opening up our ways of experiencing narrative and illustration; books can offer a dazzling array of new ways of looking at the world.
The classics mentioned above were translated from European languages. Yet even these translations are on the wane, as author-translator Daniel Hahn argues in Slate. Hahn, author of the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, which was published last year, says that while foreign books once enriched the canon, that has become less true:
I recently went to a major London bookshop, a good one, and did some counting. I found 2,047 children’s books, of which 2,018 were by English-language writers and 29 were translations. Of those 29, the number of living writers represented was … 6.
There are many reasons why translated literature has been edged out: It’s harder to arrange for foreign authors to do school events and promotional tours; it can seem more difficult for publishers to find the best of translated literature; we often associate translated literature with the “serious” world of adults.
Yet translated literature is critically important — perhaps even more for children than for adults. And children do hunger for stories about new and different worlds. They don’t need to be convinced that Calvino’s folk tales are magical: It’s we adults who need to look harder for great children’s books from around the world.
Thus, in this back-to-school September, we’re calling for a #WorldKidLit Month. We will use this month to highlight books that should be translated into English; books that are, but should be better-known; translators and publishers who work with children’s literature.
WHAT YOU WILL FIND HERE OVER THE NEXT MONTH:
>Lists of translated literature for kids.
>Interviews with translators and their authors.
>Lists of books that should be translated for kids.
>Reviews of translated literature.