My partner and I are keen to introduce our primary school age children to literature from around the world, but it seems there are very few books available for children in translation. How can I find out more?
Only a handful of titles published for children (and indeed adults) each year are translations – compare this to up to 65% in some other European countries. There are various reasons for this, chief among them the benefit (or otherwise) of English being such a widespread language. We have access to such a wealth of literature not just from our own shores but from the US, Canada, Australia, India, publishers don’t “need” to buy in translations to fill their lists. English language publishers, in particular in the UK and US, are also very good at selling translation rights to their books, and have dominated international book licencing for a long time ( although I sense that this is changing). We are much better at exporting books than at importing them.
I use the word “need” above advisedly, because I, like you, would love to see more translated books on our children’s bookshelves. And the good news is that more and more British children’s publishers do actively seek to publish books in translation, such as Chicken House, who publish not just German author Cornelia Funke (The Thief Lord; Inkheart) but also Kerstin Gier (Girl about Time) and Andreas Steinhofel (Pasta Detectives); and Walker Books, who publish a number of French authors including the Toby Lolness books by Timothée de Fombelle. Relative newcomer, Pushkin Press will be publishing classic and contemporary children’s fiction that has enjoyed commercial success overseas but has never before been published in the UK. Their brand new children’s list includes ‘the French Harry Potter’, Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope (www.oksapollock.co.uk), the enchanting Icelandic bestseller The Story of the Blue Planet by Andri Snær Magnason, the eco-fable which became the first children’s title to win the Icelandic Literary Prize; a series of five quirky Vitello picture books and A House Without Mirrors, the recent and acclaimed magical tale of a family coping with grief and growing up, by Swedish author Mårten Sandén. They have also acquired Save the Story, a library of 10 much-loved stories from around the world, from Cyrano de Bergerac and Gulliver’s Travels, to Antigone and King Lear, re-told for children by some of the world’s best contemporary writers, including Umberto Eco, Ali Smith, Dave Eggers and Jonathan Coe. Sign up to find out more at www.pushkinchildrens.com.
You could start with these three leads. If you wanted to take your research further, you could also consult the British Centre for Literary Translation website, www.bclt.org.uk. And I recommend getting your hands on a copy of Outside In: Children’s Books in Translation by Deborah Halford, published by Milet in 2005.