11 December 2007

Translated treasures

Recently, both the Guardian and Publisher's Weekly have run articles about the dearth of translated literature in the English speaking market. Sara Nelson, in her Op Ed piece for PW went so far as to say..."like moviegoers turned off by subtitles, most Americans would rather read about Americans in the American idiom. A function of fear or arrogance? You decide?"

I think that perhaps the deciding factor is neither fear nor arrogance, but perhaps it is more an issue of age. Children's Literature has a rich tradition of bona fide translated hits, from Pippi Longstocking to Tintin to Rainbow Fish to The Thief Lord. 2006 saw the release of the excellent Beyond Babar: The European Tradition in Children's Literature by Sandra L. Becket and Maria Nikolajeva (I particularly liked the chapter on Tove Jansen's Moomintrolls.) And over the past four to five years I have noticed some fantastic picture books coming out of the Far East (yes, it's not just Manga over there!) Writers from Japan and South Korea have created some gems that have no problem crossing the language divide. I've even had the dubious pleasure of reviewing some translated works that were, in my opinion, not worth the effort. But at least their presence shows that there is room for translated books in the Children's market. Children know a good story when they hear one, and it is nice to know that the prejudices which may affect adult literature are overcome for the younger readers.

Some titles of note---

Emily's Balloon (Sakai, Komako)
Chester (Imai, Ayano)

South Korea
While We Were Out (Lee, Ho Baek)
My Cat Copies Me (Kwon, Yoon D--a former Book of the Week)

On My Way to Buy Eggs (Chen, Chih-Yuan)

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Ayano Imai was born in England and moved to Japan, where she resides still. However, there are a number of high profile children's writers who have moved from Japan to the West: Satomi Ichikawa, Satoshi Kitamura, and Alan Say. Say's books often depict life in Japan, or reference Japanese life and culture. Clearly, this is not a road block for his young readers. Chalk it up to the flexibility of kids!

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