English PEN funding for Siân Valvis’s adaptation of Russian folktale, Kolobok

PEN Translates, the flagship translation funding programme at English PEN, last week announced the recipients of their summer 2021 awards. We were delighted to see Siân Valvis’s translation from Russian of the folktale Kolobok among the awarded titles…

Kolobok: A Russian Bun – On The Run! by Siân Valvis , illustrated by Dovile Ciapaite (Fontanka)

Kolobok, Siân’s rhyming adaptation of a Russian skazka or folktale, has just won a PEN Translates award for 2021. It was one of 12 books to be awarded, representing ‘some of the most exciting literature in translation arriving into the UK market’.

Kolobok: A Russian Bun – On The Run! is out in September from Fontanka as a hardback picture book with bold lino print illustrations by Dovilė Čiapaitė.

Kolobok is Siân’s inventive and playful adaptation in English of a famous Russian folktale about a resourceful bun (a kolobok) on the run, who skilfully avoids being caught and eaten by various animals. Told in Siân’s brilliant rhyming couplets, with beautifully textured illustrations by UK-base artist and illustrator Dovile Ciapaite, this new version of Kolobok is a fabulous addition to the body of English translations of Russian skazki – fairytales or folktales.

The Kolobok is a cheeky spherical bun wrapped that features in fairytales across Slavic languages and in various much-loved animated versions. Common to various tellings is the way he mocks the animals who hope to catch him with a defiant song. In Siân’s glorious version, the kolobok’s hubris swells with his taunting words, and after three successful get-aways, we can just tell he’s getting a bit too big-headed for it all to go so smoothly by the time he meets the fox…

“I’m a little kolobok —a roly, poly bun!
In the granary they scraped me,
Out of crumbs they patacaked me,
Into sour cream they dipped me,
In the frying pan they flipped me,
On the windowsill they popped me,
But Grandpa couldn’t stop me,
And Grandma couldn’t snatch me,
And Hare couldn’t catch me,
You can try to eat me, too,
But Wolfy—I’m too smart for you!”

The book’s creators

Siân Valvis is a literary translator working from French, Russian, Greek, and Portuguese into English. She was mentored by Robert Chandler in 2020 as part of the National Centre for Writing emerging translators mentorship scheme. She’s currently translating a Russian YA novel, Manunia and Me, by Narine Abgaryan, as part of the RusTrans project at Exeter University. Abgaryan was named in 2020 as ‘one of Europe’s most exciting authors’ by the Guardian newspaper. One of her novels has been published in English (Three Apples Fell from the Sky, tr. Lisa C. Hayden), but this is her first work for a younger audience to be translated into English. Siân is looking for a publisher for her translation and you can read Siân’s blog post about translating Manunia, as well as an extract of her translation here.

Dovile Ciapaite is a Lithuanian illustrator and architectural designer based in London. She loves drawing characters, creating narratives that tell stories through boldly illustrated forms that combine both traditional mark-making and industrial printing techniques. You can see more of her work on her instagram.

Children’s and YA books funded by PEN Translates

This is the first translation from Russian for younger readers that we know of that’s been funded by English PEN’s PEN Translates scheme. Some of the other funded translations include:

  • Jefferson by Jean-Claude Mourlevat, translated by Ros Schwartz, from French [France] – Andersen Press – middle grade novel
  • Felix After the Rain by Dunja Jogan, translated by Olivia Hellewell, from Slovenian [Slovenia] – Tiny Owl – picture book
  • Poems The Wind Blew In by Karmelo C. Iribarren, translated by Lawrence Schimel, from Spanish [Spain] – The Emma Press – poems for children
  • Erik and the Gods: Journey to Valhalla Lars Henrik Olsen Translated by Paul Russell Garrett, from Danish [Denmark] – Aurora Metro – Norse myths retold as a novel for late middle grade or young teens
  • The Djinn’s Apple by Djamila Morani, translated by Sawad Hussain, from Arabic [Algeria] – Neem Tree Press – young adult novel
  • Alpha: Abidjan to Gare du Nord by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux, translated by Sarah Ardizzone, from French [France] – Barrington Stoke – graphic novel

About PEN Translates

PEN Translates was launched in 2012, with support from Arts Council England, to encourage UK publishers to acquire more books from other languages. The award helps UK publishers to meet the costs of translating new works into English – whilst ensuring translators are acknowledged and paid properly for their work. PEN Translates has now awarded over £1m in funding.

The award funds up to 75% of translation costs for selected projects. When a publisher’s annual turnover is less than £500,000, there is the possibility that 100% of translation costs will be funded. PEN Translates is open for submissions twice a year, with the next round opening on 1 October 2021.

See the English PEN website for more information. Publishers should contact Will at English PEN with any enquiries: will@englishpen.org


Kolobok: A Russian Bun – On The Run!
Hardback picture book
Author: Siân Valvis (translator from Russian)
Illustrator: Dovile Ciapaite
Publisher: Fontanka
ISBN: 978190625741