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What's it like to translate children's books?

Posted on April 12, 2019

"Words and pictures talk to each other," notes Daniel Hahn, one of five translators of international children's books recently interviewed in the magazine Words Without Borders. Other featured translators include Ginny Tapley Takemori (far left above), who translated the wonderful short story "When My Wife Was a Shiitake" and other pieces in our collection of Japanese literature. Takemori comments: 

I translate the book the way it speaks to me, trying to capture its voice, and recreating its world . . . In the case of a picture book I have translated but which is not yet published, I found that because there are fewer words, the way those words are used are much more playful, so I also had to be playful in my translation . . . This was a lot of fun, and it made me want to do more picture books too!

For the entire interview, visit Words Without Borders.

Below, you'll find links to some of the child-friendly international literature on WWB Campus. 

Poetry
  • Originally written in the indigenous Purépecha language, "Purépecha Mother" begins with the line, "She is not a queen." It would fit into a unit on indigenous cultures and could inspire students' poetry about important, "ordinary" people in their own lives.
  • "Do Not Tremble," a poem from Japan, was written in response to the 2011 earthquake, and gives the reader a sense of what it feels like to be in the midst of a natural disaster. It could complement a unit on the environment, and students could write their own poems responding to natural phenomena.
  • Had enough of haikus? Take a look at "Poem to the Tune 'Pure Peace'," which was written in the lesser-known jueju form; the word means "cut-off lines," and the unusual imagery in this poem will inspire students' own efforts. (See Teaching Idea #1.)
Stories
  • "It's a Chick, Not a Dog" is an Egyptian children's story. The main character is a young girl with a pet dog; she is having trouble understanding her mother's relationship with a pet chick.
  • Do your students draw comics? "A Drifting Life" is an excerpt from the memoir of one of Japan's most famous manga creators, describing a childhood encounter with a personal hero. 
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