Norway is this year’s guest of honour at Frankfurter Buchmesse/Frankfurt Book Fair, so we asked six literary translators to answer three questions about Norwegian kid lit: what’s your favourite Norwegian kids’ book in English translation, what should be translated but hasn’t yet, and which publishers should we look out for?
Thanks to all for these full and enthusiastic responses!
1. What’s your favourite Norwegian children’s book in English translation?
Paul Russell Garrett: My favourite is Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (Sofies verden). In the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to translate new introductions to the 20th Anniversary edition and most recently, this beautiful illustrated edition by Folio Society. That a children’s YA book about philosophy would become a bestseller is pretty phenomenal, in my eyes.
2. Any tips for Norwegian children’s books recently out but not yet translated?
KD: I’m going to go for Hysj by Magnhild Winsnes (Shhh) published by Aschehoug in in 2017, a beautiful graphic novel about growing up and the transition to puberty.
RH: A few years ago now, I was introduced to the dystopian YA novel Alle Duene (All the Doves) by Harald Rosenløw Eeg. It touches upon issues such as war and ethnic cleansing in an engaging and accessible way for young readers and is still (painfully) relevant, even though it was first published in 2003.
PRG: I really enjoyed Dette er ikke oss (That’s not us) by Neda Alaei.
GP: Bukkene Bruse begynner på skolen (The Billy Goats Gruff Start School) by Bjørn F. Rørvik, illustrated by Gry Moursund (Cappelen Damm, 2017). Having a four-week-old child, I can’t wait to read him this wonderfully zany book in due course, and I confess I might have already tried. He is likely to grow up speaking English, Italian, and Scottish Gaelic, but since it hasn’t been published in translation into any of those languages yet, I suppose I’ll have to make up an unofficial translation as we go along, which might be a little different every time. I just hope he won’t be too scared of the troll, but it gets its nose stuck in the school photocopier anyway.
BC: Okay. I have even more of these.
1) I don’t think this has been translated into English: Tales Throughout Time by Yulia Horst and illustrated by Daria Rychkova. The premise, with wonderful illustrations, asks what would the world be like if we all had tales? This duo also came out with The History of Darkness, which won awards in Bologna, premising a young boy’s fear of the dark at night in his room.
2) The Angel in the Devil’s Jaws by Levi Henriksen from 2013. An exciting YA adventure about a young girl’s scheme gone wrong with her family on a remote island. Was sold to several countries, including Germany, but not translated into English.
3) True Joys (Sanne Gleder) by Lars Saabye Christensen with illustrations by Stian Hole. The idea is simple–Christensen, who has written novels and YA literature (my favorite is Beatles) counts up his blessings, each one given a very unusual illustration. I have translated the entire book and hope to find a publisher. An example: ”
…there is joy in your hair one morning in October
there is joy in returning home
there is joy in the song between the lines
there is joy in that which remains
there is joy in the beginning
there is joy in the time it takes
there is joy in the boots on the shelf
there is joy in the deck chair on the grass
there is joy in the state of things
there is joy in the falling darkness
there is joy in the last little bit…
4) The Sudden Cats by Helge Torvund and illustrated by Mari Kanstad Johnsen, who is one of my favorite Norwegian illustrators. I find the premise of this book so utterly hilarious and surreal. Two boys go to visit Grandpa, who jams with them in the basement, makes them pancakes, and then… suddenly turns into a cat. This happens a few times leading up to the family band’s performance at the town swap meet, always to the surprise of the boys, who have to go out looking for the cat when he escapes the house. Grandpa, however, does not appear to be so startled at the turn of events. The boys name their band “The Sudden Cats” in honor of Grandpa and their music is a hit at the swap meet. Grandpa turns into a cat again after performing the last song with them on stage. The illustrations are just marvelous (check out Johnsen’s other illustrated books too). I love this story and the pictures so much that I almost would like to start up my own publishing house to publish it in English. I hope someone does.
5) Ruth Lillegraven’s children’s poetry collections (also illustrated by Mari Kanstad Johnsen). (I am I am I am) Jeg er jeg er jeg er and The Green Forest. Lillegraven writes poems for children that, though the language is simple, touch on very complex emotions. Sadness, feeling small, sorrow and loss, anger, but she is also playful and refreshing. I have the feeling that she gets on the level of a child when she writes these poems, and she is a very exciting author (of multiple genres!) to look out for.
6) Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson’s newest book Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies for kids. Each page spread focuses on a different insect with illustrations and gives terrific and fun facts for kids about that particular bug. This author recently took the world by storm with her adult insect book Extraordinary Insects. I would like this to be translated and published as soon as possible so I can give it to my daughter.
Lucy Moffatt: Jenteboka (The Girl Book) by Nina Brochmann and Ellen Støkken Dahl. Hot off the presses and sold out in days, this wonderful – and marvellously illustrated – book is a guide to puberty for girls aged 8-14. From the writers of Gleden med skjeden (The Wonder down Under). Bold, warm and I’d say almost revolutionary in its aims.
3. Can you recommend a Norwegian children’s book publisher to look out for?
GP: Magikon Forlag, which has a particular focus on picture books. Especially impressive is ‘Alle sammen teller’ by Kristin Roskifte (due out in English soon with Wide-Eyed Editions as ‘Everybody Counts: A Counting Story from 0 to 7.5 Billion’).
Another publisher to look out for: Det Norske Samlaget covers a wide spectrum of high-quality literature, including children’s books for all ages, but is crucially the most prominent publisher of books in Nynorsk, the lesser-used of the two official written standards of Norwegian. As a result, it provides many stories from more peripheral areas of Norwegian society.
About the translators
Becky L. Crook is a writer and literary translator. In 2010, she founded SAND, an English literary journal, in Berlin. She led creative writing workshops in the Netherlands for two years before returning to the US. Between translation projects, she recently finished writing her own first novel. She lives with her family on an island near Seattle. More about Becky at her website.
Kari Dickson is a literary translator from Norwegian. Her work includes crime fiction, literary fiction, children’s books, theatre, and nonfiction. She is also an occasional tutor in Norwegian language, literature and translation at the University of Edinburgh, and has worked with BCLT and the Writers’ Centre Norwich. See Kari’s profile at Enchanted Lion Books, for whom she has translated several children’s books.
Paul Russell Garrett works from Danish and Norwegian and, on occasion, Swedish. Recent translations include Lars-Henrik Olsen’s Erik and the Gods, Lars Mytting’s The Sixteen Trees of the Somme, and Christina Hesselholdt’s Companions. In 2019, Fitzcarraldo Editions will publish his translation of Hesselholdt’s latest novel, Vivian, a fictional account of the early years of the American street photographer Vivian Maier. Paul serves on the committee of the Translators Association and heads up the [Foreign Affairs] Translates! theatre translation programme.
Rosie Hedger was born in Scotland and completed her MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Rosie was selected to take part in the Emerging Translator Mentorships programme in 2012, and since then has translated a range of work by authors including Helga Flatland, Agnes Ravatn and Gine Cornelia Pedersen. Rosie’s translation of Pedersen’s novel was nominated for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Award in 2019, and her translation of Ravatn’s work received an English PEN Translates Award in 2016. Her website is here.
Lucy Moffatt has been translating professionally for twenty years, first from Spanish and, more recently, from Norwegian to English. She has co-translated several award-winning Mexican documentaries and won a John Dryden prize in 2013 for her translation of a text by Hans Herbjørnsrud, one of Norway’s greatest living short-story writers. A Londoner by birth, she now lives in a tiny village in Norway with her academic husband.