5 Questions: Recommended German Books and The Freer Use of ‘Scheiße’

Rachel Ward of Forward Translations (forwardtranslations.co.uk) is the translator of several books for young readers as well as the original translated kidlit listicle-maker over at her blog, “A Discount Ticket to Everywhere.”

She translates from the German and answered 5 questions about her work, German kidlit, and her recommendations.

Can you tell us about the book you’re translating now?

I’m currently working on “Zippel” by Alex Ruehle for Andersen Press. It’s about a boy called Paul who finds a little ghost living in his keyhole, and it’s for age 6+ and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, which is very exciting. There’s a lot of wordplay and silly rhymes involved which makes it both fun and challenging to translate. I still don’t have a good solution for the biggest of these challenges.

How do you discover new German kid lit? Do you discover great new kidlit differently from how you discover grown-up work? Do you approach the process any differently?

I go about finding and pitching children’s books very much the same way as adult ones. Some things come through New Books in German, sometimes I’m commissioned to translate samples for the German-language publisher, some things I spot for myself in bookshops or online.

What makes the German kid-lit landscape different from the English-language one? What might surprise people about literature for young people in German?

German children are expected to be more independent from a younger age than British ones, which is sometimes reflected in the books I work on. They also seem to use words like “verdammt” or “Scheiße” more freely than an English author would use “damn” or “shit”. Apart from that, I wouldn’t consider myself enough of an expert to comment!

Do you have a favorite three or five German kid’s books that you would recommend (that are in English translation) to interested readers?

My older son (11) enjoyed “The Pasta Detectives” by Andreas Steinhöfel, tr. Chantal Wright, and Anthea Bell’s translation of Cornelia Funke’s “Dragon Rider”, both from Chicken House, and my younger son (9) liked Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp’s translation of “Apple Cake and Baklava” by Kathrin Rohmann (Darf Books).

What book that hasn’t yet been translated — a classic or a new work — that you would like to see in English?

I have translated samples of a lot of imaginative fantasy books that I would love to see in English. One is “Das Böse Buch von Magnus Myst”, which is a darkly humorous interactive book for 10+ from Ueberreuter with stories, puzzles and a treasure hunt element to it. Another is Bob Konrad’s “The Island of Nightmares and Other Things That Must Be Kept Secret”, which I reviewed for New Books in German a few years back. Finally, a classic which I’d love to see retranslated is “Emil and the Detectives” – the current version available in the UK makes Erich Kästner’s Berlin street slang sound like it was written by Enid Blyton, as I wrote about on “A Discount Ticket to Everywhere.”

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