Category Archives: Other

The Art of Translation

I grew up knowing German and so can find certain English translations of familiar books disconcerting. Take Hoffman’s Der Struwwelpeter.  I knew it first in German and delighted in certain rhymes, say the cats warning Paulinchen if she played with matches:

Und M i n z und M a u n z , die Katzen,
Erheben ihre Tatzen.
Sie drohen mit den Pfoten :
“Der Vater hat’s verboten !”
Miau ! Mio ! Miau ! Mio !
Laß stehn ! Sonst brennst Du lichterloh !”

Much later I came across two very different English translations.  One seems to be more common, serviceable, but completely lacking the rhyme of the original.  Here’s that translation for the cats’ warning to Paulinchen:

The Pussy-cats saw this
And said: “Oh, naughty, naughty Miss!”
And stretched their claws,
And raised their paws:
“‘Tis very, very wrong, you know,
Me-ow, me-o, me-ow, me-o,
You will be burnt, if you do so.”

But then one day I came across Mark Twain’s translation.  His lesser known version captures for me far more successfully the energy and rhyme of Hoffman’s original German:

And Mintz and Mountz, the catties,
Lift up their little patties,
They threaten with their pawses:
“It’s against the lawses!
Me-yow! Me-yo! Me-yow! Me-yo!
You’ll burn yourself to ashes, O!”

(If you can, try scanning all three and you may see what I mean.)

Perhaps because of this early experience and subsequent time in countries where other languages dominated, I’ve always been fascinated by translation. So much is involved beyond the simple matching of grammar. Today’s Guardian article, “The Subtle Art of Translation” is excellent, featuring thoughts from a number of translators. While the focus is on adult fiction, their ruminations are completely applicable to all translation, children’s books too. Highly recommended.

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A Monster Calls, New Movie Trailer

So this is very much the antithesis of the BFG movie, I’d say.

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Coming Soon: Jason Reynold’s Ghost

I’m in love with Jason Reynold’s forthcoming Ghost.  Both the book and the title character. Reynolds’ presentation of this feisty, complicated, and endearing young man is deftly demonstrated through his first person narration of this winning middle grade book. It is the story of a young black boy in middle school who has experienced something dreadful, but who doesn’t want attention paid to him because of that. This is a boy who aspires to being a basketball player (though he hasn’t exactly tried to do it) and then, out of the blue, discovers that he has a talent for running. This is a boy who, before he knows it, is part of an elite track team and, by the end of the novel, cares deeply about doing well in it.

In the close first person narration we are with Ghost as he reacts to bullies, to an horrific event that affects who he is, to his new track teammates, to his self-consciousness as to his neighborhood, to his poverty, to his coach, and to simple pieces of his day. Say sunflower seeds. Reynolds describes wonderfully Ghost’s delight in them, eating them, spitting them, and buying them at the local store with his delightful repeated exchange with the store’s owner. It is a small lively thread that winds through the story, deepening our understanding of Ghost as well as those around him. There is superb dialog, real situations, fabulous description (I can just see the shoes — those generic ones he reworks for running and the other pair that is critical to the plot so can’t say more here), and impressive characters. I am certain Coach, Ghost’s mother, his friends and foes at school, and his teammates will stay strong in my mind for some time to come. To me that is one way to consider good writing — does it stay in your mind? Reynolds’ here absolutely does.

Having trained with a coach as part of a track club decades ago I can vouch for the authenticity of the workouts, say those “fart licks” (the real term is fartlek —a Swedish word for exactly what Ghost and his team mates do). I can’t wait for further books featuring Ghost, his teammates, and those great adults in his life.

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Coming Soon: Shaun Tan’s The Singing Bones

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I’m so pleased that those in the U. S. will soon have an opportunity to see Shaun Tan’s brilliant Grimm fairy tale sculptures in the forthcoming The Singing Bones from Scholastic. I first heard of them several years ago when I met the German publisher Klaus Humann of Aladin Verlag who told me about a wonderful new project — having Shaun Tan illustrate (with small sculptures) Philip Pullman’s retellings of the Grimm fairy tales. Since I do read German (poorly) and was eager to see the book I ordered it from Germany and was not disappointed. (You can read my reaction here.)  I wondered about this new book and so found more information on Shaun’s website.

Naturally I was very keen to bring my illustrations to readers in other languages, but other editions of Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old precluded this (and worked perfectly fine without them). In any case, there were also many other stories I wished to illustrate so I continued making more sculptures, drawing upon such tales as Thumbling, The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids and Snow White and Rose Red, as well as others less well known. Given the original tales are in the public domain, I decided to make my own book.

Fairy tale expert Jack Zipes  has an informative essay and comprehensive bibliography in the new book. Philip Pullman introduced the Australian edition while Neil Gaiman did a foreword for the American one. The ARC is gorgeous so I can’t wait to see the finished book. This will be a fabulous gift book this coming holiday season.

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The Rhetoric of Greatness

‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself,’ said Alice, ‘a great girl like you,’ (she might well say this), ‘to go on crying in this way! Stop this moment, I tell you!’ But she went on all the same, shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool all round her, about four inches deep and reaching half down the hall.

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That’s Alice using “great” as the British do to mean “big.”  An American child would say she was too big to be crying so much. It has absolutely nothing to do with Alice being some sort of awesome individual. I write because I am fed-up with the tedious speechifying around this word, used to argue about returning to some sort of mythic greatness or awesomeness. If Alice was great in that Trumpian awesome sense, Carroll’s cutting her (literally) down to size. Here’s a brief twitter exchange I just had on this. Thanks, Philip.

Mighty tired of the rhetoric around making something (say a country) “great” again. I’d like to see a more generous word in play.

That bothers me too. ‘Great Britain’ just means a country that’s larger than ‘Britain’, which meant England and Wales

 

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Coming Soon: The BFG Movie

This past week, through the kindness of Walden Pond Press, I was able to attend a screening of the Steven Spielberg adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG.  I went into it knowing little, as it is one of the few Dahl titles I have not read, attributable to my working full time, doing a part-time graduate degree, running competitively (did my second NYC marathon that year), and slowly giving up on my dream of becoming a children’s book illustrator the year it came out. When I heard about the movie last year I started reading the book, but soon gave up — I found the BFG’s made-up vocabulary highly irritating. However, knowing how much others love the book, the positive responses to the movie so far, and the impressive people involved made me eager to see it.

And now I am here to report that it is delightful. I don’t know if it is a great departure from the book (I now intend to give it another try), but it worked for me. Early on the BFG explains his difficulties with language and so it didn’t bother me. Overall, it is funny, sweet, mournful, and highly satisfying at the end. There are some fabulous scenes — the BFG’s home, his dream-work, and those in the palace. The latter,  in particular the one involving frobscottle (here I am using that whimsical language myself:), provoked the biggest laughs-out-loud from me and others in the audience, some of whom were very, very young. I enjoyed what appeared to be a few subtle references to Spielberg’s iconic E.T. — at least so they seemed to me. But what really makes the movie is Mark Rylance’s BFG. The man is brilliant. I’ve seen him in a variety of productions — notably the farce Boing-Boing,  his fabulous turn as Olivia in the RSC’s Twelfth Night , and the Wolf Hall television series — and think he is truly one of the great actors of our time. In this, for all the make-up and digital enhancements, the marvelous actor comes through in spades. I’d go see it again just for him if nothing else.

 

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Orlando Now

On Thursday I will head off to Orlando for ALA’s Annual Convention. And I will, like the other attendees, be thinking about those who lost their lives a week ago in that vibrant city. I am heartsick for them and for all those who knew them, for their communities, for everyone impacted by this dreadful loss. I am furious that yet again lives were cut short. Enraged that it happens over and over and over in this country. Disgusted that it seems never ending.  Sickened that we have to prepare ourselves for the next one. Unable to comprehend that we in the US cannot keep assault weapons out of the hands of dangerous and disturbed people. That said I try to be optimistic and to hope that things will change for that better. That there will not be another one. That this from Anne Frank who would have been 87 last Sunday is true:

In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.

Words to hold close in these dark times.

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