Temple Alley Summer, interview with Alison Gore and Avery Fischer Udagawa

Words Without Borders recently released their top ten new children’s books in translation to read this summer. Included on that list is a new middle grade book book from Japan, Temple Alley Summer, written by Sachiko Kashiwaba, translated from Japanese by Avery Fischer Udagawa and published by Restless Books. The book is being released TODAY and it is our great privilege to be able to bring you this interview with translator Avery Fischer Udagawa and editor at Restless Books, Alison Gore…

World Kid Lit: Avery and Alison, thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions about Temple Alley Summer. Could you start off by telling us a little about the book?

Avery: Temple Alley Summer is a middle grade novel that unfolds in a regional Japanese city and a kingdom that has lost its prince. A boy named Kazu, who is in fifth grade or Year 6, sees a mysterious girl leave his house one day and then appear in his class at school. The girl turns out to be Akari, a soul getting a new chance at life, but that chance may be in peril. Kazu scrambles to support Akari, and as he gets to know her, he and she pursue the ending to a serialized fantasy story that was left unfinished. They locate the story’s author, who completes the tale of a nine-year-old girl named Adi, who dives for a special pearl and fights a witch’s treacherous plot. Adi is descended from the reborn, and her story otherwise echoes and amplifies motifs in the main story about Kazu and Akari. That may all sound complex, but as an experience, Temple Alley Summer is an inspiring adventure alongside nine- and ten-year-olds who find themselves being adult-brave.

Alison: Temple Alley Summer has a little bit of everything for everyone—mystery, intrigue, an unlikely duo, an ancient temple with supernatural powers, and a precocious black cat!! It’s an absolutely charming novel about a young boy faced with some very grown-up realities. Kazu is gearing up for a typical (boring) summer when the sudden appearance of new classmate and neighbor, Akari, completely upends his life. Kazu and Akari set out to solve the mystery of Kimyō Temple and Akari’s reappearance in the world of the living, and along the way they learn a lot about friendship, loyalty, and the importance of living life with purpose, all while navigating some tricky situations.

WKL: Avery, I believe you proposed Temple Alley Summer to Alison. How did you come across it to start with and what was it that made you think “I have to translate this”?

Avery: I found it after translating a story by the same author, Sachiko Kashiwaba, for the anthology Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. I noticed that Temple Alley Summer kept me turning pages with its suspense and high stakes. It also offered themes of friendship and living life so as not to have regrets—as Alison mentions—which I completely bought into.

WKL: Alison, when Avery suggested the book to you, was it love at first sight? How do you make that decision to run with a book?

Alison: Avery sent me a full translation of the novel, and I devoured it in one sitting. I was immediately captivated by the parallel narratives, the connection between Akari and Kazu, and their determination to solve the mysteries of Daisy, Akari’s rebirth, and Kimyō Temple. Miho Satake’s illustrations add an extra dimension to the text with different styles reflecting the two stories within the novel. I knew it was right for us after the first read. It fits in so perfectly with our other genre-blending middle-grade fiction, The Wild Book, Rat Rule 79, and The Casket of Time; the author is a true legend in Japanese children’s literature, who somehow still hadn’t debuted in English yet; and there was an overwhelmingly positive response from the whole team at Restless. There was really no question of whether or not we should publish Temple Alley Summer.

WKL: How long did it take from pitching the book initially to having the final version in print? Did the pandemic or anything else impact on your process?

Avery: It’s taken about six years since I finished the first full draft to see the translation come out in print. When I first began sending it into the world, the Yonder imprint at Restless Books did not exist yet! The pandemic did not hamper the pitching or editorial processes, but it has definitely forced us to be creative about promotion. I recently had to cancel a launch event where I live (an international school community north of Bangkok) due to the virus. It has also complicated travel to my family’s home countries, the US and Japan, where normally I would hope to visit and do some readings this summer.

Alison: Avery first sent me materials for Temple Alley Summer in 2019, so from that initial pitch to publication it’s been almost two years exactly. It’s been such a rewarding experience working with Avery, and I’m grateful that the pandemic didn’t have any major impacts on the editorial process, though, as Avery mentions, we have had to be creative with promotion as we’re living in a virtual Zoom age with limited or no opportunities for in-person events. We’ve had some really great opportunities though: Laura Simeon, the children’s editor at Kirkus Reviews, interviewed both Avery and Sachiko Kashiwaba for a fabulous feature, and Avery recently finished a recording with Sachiko Kashiwaba for the YouTube channel Translators Aloud.

WKL: Avery, were there any really tricky sections of the book to translate, or conversely any really fun bits?

Avery: The opening chapters were tricky in that they assume some background knowledge not a given among readers of English. Summer is ghost story season in Japan. School continues into July. Many families maintain household altars memorializing their ancestors. It was important to provide this context without interrupting the story; I used more than one “stealth gloss” and sometimes had to use a brief translation instead of a perfect one (example: porch for engawa).

Many passages were fun to translate, including those that portray Kazu’s relationship with Yūsuke, his long-time friend who can be on a completely different wavelength. In one scene, where local elders come to question Kazu at his house, Yūsuke is obliviously reading manga in Kazu’s room and thinks Kazu is gone for ages because he has diarrhea. Another time, Yūsuke himself is supposed to have tummy trouble, but he recovers in time to see Kazu walking with Akari, and he’s gobsmacked that Kazu might have a crush. These funny spots counterbalance weightier ones and keep the main story grounded in ten-year-old land. Yes, there are many references to bodily functions.

WKL: Avery, I loved the story within a story. Did you have to approach these two narratives in different ways?

Avery: I made sure to work on the two narratives separately at times for the sake of internal consistency. They represent distinct genres—magical realism and fantasy (fairytale)—reflecting Sachiko Kashiwaba’s amazing versatility.

WKL: Did either of you have (m)any queries for the author? If so, at what point in the translation and editing process do you resolve these issues? If you needed to contact the author, did that go through the Japanese publisher, or were you able to contact the author directly?

Avery: I have had direct contact with the author from the beginning. I really appreciated her reading an annotated version of the Japanese that I prepared, which indicates where liberties were taken to convey the experience in English. She was open to this and very helpful, as was Marica Nishitani of the international rights department at Kodansha, the Japanese publisher.

Alison: I had a lot of queries, and Avery was incredibly patient with my many questions, either directly answering or relaying them to the author. We ironed out most of the big questions early in the editing process before we printed galleys, and then got to focus on the fun stuff like nailing down the epic fight scenes, placing the illustrations, and playing around with the layout design. 

WKL: Temple Alley Summer has received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews – congratulations! How important are reviews like this?

Avery: For my morale, huge!!

Alison: Introducing an author without name recognition to readers of English always takes a special marketing push. And an author without name recognition in translation poses an extra challenge in the US, where translated literature is still outside the mainstream. So this is all to say that that review from Kirkus was so important for Temple Alley Summer! An early star from a well-respected outlet really catches the eye.

Beyond reviews, support from booksellers also means everything for a debut author—or in Sachiko Kashiwaba’s case, an English-language debut. There are so many booksellers behind the scenes who read Temple Alley Summer and wrote the most wonderful blurbs and reviews, landing it on the Kids’ Indie Next list. So if you’re reading this, booksellers: thank you! We couldn’t do this without you, quite literally.

WKL: More generally, Alison, how did you get into editing books for young readers? And Avery, what has your journey been as a translator?

Alison: Yonder is a huge part of the Restless Books mission, so I pretty much started working on children’s books as soon as I joined the team. I’ve always loved children’s literature, so it’s been incredibly rewarding to work on so many amazing picture books, middle-grade, and young adult titles. It’s a completely different mindset than working with adult titles; I’ve found it can be more challenging to edit picture books with only two hundred words than a three-hundred-page novel.

Avery: I was an English major who developed an interest in Japanese and wanted to work with both languages. After some years of postgraduate study in Japan, I tried out different kinds of translation and found myself drawn to children’s books. Perhaps this was due to starting a family and wanting the different parts of my life to connect. They definitely do now—the final passes on Temple Alley Summer were a family affair involving my husband and our daughters, aged nine and thirteen.

WKL: Are either of you working on any exciting new projects that you can tell us about?

Avery: I am pleased that my translation of another work by Sachiko Kashiwaba, “Mirror, Mirror,” appears in the new anthology An Asian Tapestry of Colours Book 1 (of 2).

Alison: The audiobook for Temple Alley Summer is currently in production and will be available in August. We’ve also got some really exciting Yonder titles coming up. It’s Okay, Slow Lizard, a Korean picture book about mindfulness, will be out in September. And next spring we’re publishing My Life at the Bottom: The Story of a Lonesome Axolotl, a picture book about climate change that’s unlike any other we’ve ever seen before. It’s by Nordic illustrator Linda Bondestam, creator of Good Night, Earth.

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Avery Fischer Udagawa

Avery Fischer Udagawa serves as Translator Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (see Translation in SCBWI). Avery’s translations from Japanese to English include the middle grade novels J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani and Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba. Her short story translations have appeared in Kyoto Journal, Words Without Borders, Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories, and A Tapestry of Colours 1: Stories from Asia. She lives near Bangkok.

Alison Gore

Alison Gore is the Associate Editor and Grants Manager at Restless Books. She holds a Masters in English and American Literature from NYU and is a former bookseller.

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