Today’s post was written by my good friend, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, one of my classmates from VCFA. Lyn has written novels like Gringolandia, Surviving Santiago, and Rogue. She’s here to talk about her work as a translator. Take it away, Lyn!
The months of August and September are busy times for us translators of children’s books. For the past several weeks, we’ve honored international women writers and the women who have translated their work, and next month we recognize those books for children originally published outside the U.S. and Canada, many of them translations, as part of #WorldKidlit month.
I have had the good fortune to translate six books for young readers from Portuguese to English, all but one of them written by women. I became a translator quite by accident when I attended a meeting of children’s book authors where Claudia Bedrick, the publisher of Enchanted Lion Books was speaking. Enchanted Lion’s list consists primarily of picture books originally published abroad and translated into English, and she said that she needed someone to translate a book first published in Portugal. I’d recently returned from six months in Portugal, where I took an intensive class for immigrants, after which I completed a course in Brazilian Portuguese at the University of Albany.
I raised my hand.
The result was The World in a Second, by Isabel Minhós Martins and illustrated by Bernardo Carvalho, a book that earned my first starred review ever. In addition to giving the book a star, Kirkus named it to its list of Best Children’s Books of 2015. The book also appeared on the Best Children’s Books list of the Boston Globe and was named one of the 2016 CCBC Choices of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin. That was another coveted “first” for me, because I graduated in 1990 from the University of Wisconsin’s School of Library and Information Studies, and I knew that making CCBC Choices was a rare and important honor.
The text of The World in a Second consists of brief commentary on illustrations of scenes throughout the world that take place at the same moment. For me, it was an easy transition into translating children’s books. My next project for Enchanted Lion, Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words, by Ruth Rocha and illustrated by Madalena Matoso, presented many more challenges. One was translating a story featuring a young Brazilian boy named João, who goes to school for the first time and sees his world in a new way, to make it accessible to a U.S. readership while maintaining its Brazilian feel. The popular but difficult-to-pronounce-in-English name João had to be changed out of consideration for teachers and caregivers reading the book aloud; I replaced it with the only slightly less popular Pedro. My editor wanted a new title for the book, as the one in Portuguese, O Menino Que Aprendeu a Ver (The Boy Who Learned to See), felt dull and preachy. Many of the illustrations had to be altered because Pedro learns words that begin with the letters A and D, but some of those don’t begin with A or D in English. The same occurred with billboards, street signs, and labels that begin to take on new meaning as my young protagonist recognizes the letters from school. Published in 2016, Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words also received acclaim, including another spot in CCBC Choices and one on the USBBY’s Outstanding International Children’s Books list.
In the past two years, I’ve had two books come out each year. The fable, The Queen of the Frogs, by the Italian duo, author Davide Cali and illustrator Marco Somà, was published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, another award-winning publisher of international books in translation. While the story didn’t win as many distinctions as my books for Enchanted Lion, it is certainly a relevant one for our times—the story of a peaceful, egalitarian pond full of frogs where everything changes when one frog catches a gold ring dropped from a bridge, puts it on her head like a crown, and, with the support of a small coterie of advisers, declares herself the queen. With no special qualification, except maybe swimming and diving ability, she puts the ordinary frogs to work serving her and her allies while she enjoys a life of leisure and luxury on a lily pad.
My second book for 2017 is also a timely one. Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World), by Henriqueta Cristina and illustrated by Yara Kono, is the story of a Portuguese family forced to flee as a result of a cruel dictatorship in their country that won’t allow children living in poverty or in rural areas to attend school. The parents and three children end up in a country where “all children go to school,” but everyone dresses alike and there is no more freedom to speak out than in Portugal. The young narrator misses her old home and notices the lines of worry and sadness on her parents’ faces. She and her mother come up with a way of speaking without actually speaking—knitting sweaters in new patterns and color combinations and showing how immigrants and refugees enrich the lives of the countries where they settle. This book attained another prestigious “first” for me—a Skipping Stones Honor Award in the Multicultural/International Books category.
Now that it’s 2018, I have one book that launched this month, and one more in the works. Published in North America by Charlesbridge, Olive the Sheep Can’t Sleep, by Clementina Almeida, illustrated by Ana Camila Silva, combines a soothing story for young children with tips for caregivers to help establish bedtime routines and ease the little one’s journey to slumber. Although I’ve translated academic articles, Olive the Sheep Can’t Sleep is the first time I’ve translated advice for general adult readers.
And one more “first”: Earlier this year, a Brazilian publisher, Editora Caixote, contacted me to translate a middle grade novel, which they would publish in a trilingual (Portuguese, Spanish, and English) edition. Written by noted Brazilian journalist Carolina Montenegro, Amal is the story of a 12-year-old girl from Syria who must flee her bombarded village and travel alone through Turkey and Greece to Italy, where her uncle lives—along the way meeting other unaccompanied children fleeing war and poverty. This book is due out at the beginning of 2019, and although readers in the U.S. won’t have access to it, I am pleased that my translations are finding an international audience. In the coming years, however, I hope that publishers and readers in the U.S. will become more open to international literature in translation and the different perspectives that these books offer.
For more information about these books, and translation of children’s books in general, please check out these links to my blog articles:
I’d love to give away one of these translated books to a worthy commenter. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Tell me which book you’d like. The winner will be announced on August 27.
Book covers from Goodreads.