More Visibility for Translators
Last week I heard the news that the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is adding a new category for children’s book translators. Apparently, the very active SCBWI international chapter in Japan has been lobbying for this move for a long time. Japan is a center for children’s/YA book translation, both of bestselling titles from the United States published in Japanese and manga that has found an enthusiastic audience among American readers of graphic novels. Last year when I was on the first round Graphic Novel panel for the Cybils, I had the pleasure of reading about a dozen titles translated from Japanese, and I appreciated both the artwork and the glimpse into a very different culture. And when I traveled to Japan this past summer, I made sure our family added a few days in Kyoto, where I spent most of an afternoon in the International Manga Museum.
The new SCBWI translators category includes both translators living around the world, who bring books originally published in English to non-English-speaking readers, and the much smaller group of us who translate books from other countries into English. Unfortunately, readers in the United States have been reluctant to embrace translation than readers in most other countries, including countries with long and rich literary traditions of their own. (Fewer people in the U.S. study other languages as seriously as their counterparts throughout the rest of the world, but that’s a subject for another post.)
Over this past year, I have joined the ranks of translators making children’s books from other countries available in English. My career as a translator began with some of the songs Mario and I feature on Los Vientos del Pueblo. Although he had translated most of them already by the time I started as an assistant in 2007, I took on some newer songs from albums I brought back from Argentina or had in my collection from when I worked with underground and exiled Chilean musicians. After Richard and I returned from his Fulbright appointment in Portugal, I added features of Portuguese and Brazilian musicians and translated their songs from Portuguese. Thus, when Claudia Zoe Bedrick from the award-winning publisher Enchanted Lion spoke at a PEN meeting about publishing picture books from Europe and said she needed a translator for a book in Portuguese, I raised my hand.
The result became my very first children’s book translation, which will be published in April or May of 2015. The book, O Mundo Num Segundo, is written by Isabel Minhós Martins, illustrated by Bernardo Carvalho, and published by Planeta Tangerina, a lively, innovative children’s publisher located in a suburb of Lisbon. When I was in Lisbon last April, I had the pleasure of meeting Isabel in person and seeing more of her work. Both Claudia and I appreciate the metafictional elements of the story and the way her picture books play with the form of the book. O Mundo Num Segundo — in English, The World in a Second — describes what is happening in 23 places throughout the world at the very same second. New York and Chicago are among the places featured — along with Buenos Aires, Argentina; Florianópolis, Brazil; Mexico City; East London, South Africa; Xangongo, Angola; Tokyo; Omsk, Russia; a village in Turkey; and many other places.
This month I’m renewing my SCBWI membership, and I look forward to getting in touch with other translators to discuss issues related to selecting works to translate, conveying the meaning of the original work while making it accessible to readers in another language and culture, working with publishers, and expanding the range of books that are available to young readers. In addition to working on other books from Isabel, I hope to bring some of Brazil’s talented illustrators and authors to U.S. audiences, including Hans Christian Andersen Award winner Roger Mello and singer/songwriter, poet, and author of books for adults and children Chico Buarque. I’ve spoken to various publishers and found some interest in publishing picture books in translation, but so far I haven’t drummed up much interest in translations of middle grade and young adult titles. I keep hearing that MG and YA books from other countries are a “hard sell” in the U.S. — very different from the situation in other countries. In fact, this past year, my Gringolandia was published — with the same title but a different cover — as a young adult novel in Italy. I am thrilled and honored to have been chosen and thank the folks at Atmosphere Libri in Rome and translator G. Cara for making my novel available to Italian readers.
Perhaps one day, tweens and teens in the United States will want to read stories from other countries as much as their counterparts in other countries want to read about them. We live in a global society, and I think that the economic future of young people in the U.S. will depend on their ability to work with people from different cultures, who speak other languages besides English. In the coming decades, young people who know other languages and who are open to the rest of the world will thrive in a way that those who only want to hear about people just like themselves may not. This is why we need translators and the stories they bring across borders and oceans.