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Deborah Hollford

Have you ever wondered about books in translation? What about children’s books? We’ve all read translated stories at one time or another — some of us might not have even realized it! With the help of Deborah Hallford of Outside In World, an “an organisation dedicated to promoting, exploring and celebrating world literature, particularly children’s books in translation”, we were able to get a few of these sought after questioned, answered.


What is the most important thing children can take away from reading translated books?


Translated children’s literature is important for lots of reasons. I don’t think there is one single ‘most important’ thing that children can take away from reading a translated book.  For one thing, it can broaden horizons and help to break down the barriers of geography, language and race. The diversity of literature can also help to develop a greater tolerance and understanding of other peoples’ beliefs and cultures by enabling different audiences to access, explore and enjoy books from other countries. In the UK, now, more than ever, it’s important that we don’t become culturally insular so literature from other countries is very necessary.


Do you believe illustrations are important within translated children’s books?


Illustration in picture books are important from whatever country they are published in so are not any more important just because they are a translated title. The book would have been published in its own country already and obviously a UK publisher will be looking for good quality illustrations. Beautiful illustrations can come from anywhere and the UK has a rich tradition of picture books as do many other countries.


What genres of translated children’s stories do we need more of?


Over the years Outside in World has been keeping a database of translated books published and distributed in the UK. For example, there have been plenty of picture books, all dealing with a variety of stories and subject, but in fiction this has not been the case.  The most popular genre for fiction across age ranges has been fantasy.  There are far fewer issue-led books that have been translated, although there are many produced in the UK so publishers may feel they may not necessarily add anything new.

It would be good to see more historical fiction and also contemporary stories set in the country they come from, dealing with issues specific to them.  For example, books dealing with refugees or the recent winner of the Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation ‘Bronze and Sunflower’, a book about rural China in the 1960/70s, either tell us about what is going on in another part of the world or about a different culture so it would be great to see more of these types of books being translated.


How does the media play a role (or lack thereof) in marketing translated books?


Newspapers, magazines and online blogs review children’s books although most newspapers review far more adult books with children’s books being reviewed just once or twice a year in the national papers.  TV has occasionally done a programme about children’s literature and Radio has done a similar thing.  Outside In World doesn’t keep a record of what the media covers so are unable to comment as to how effective it is in terms of marketing.  Probably a publisher would be able to answer this question much better.

Tiny Owl books at London Book Fair 2016

How can teachers play a role in advocating for translated children’s stories?


Again, knowledge of the educational system in the UK is not part of OIW’s remit so we are very limited about what we know of the curriculum and how teachers use or do not use translated books in the classroom so this is a difficult question for us to answer.

Obviously we’d like teachers to use more translated books in the classroom but it’s very much down to what they have to cover in the curriculum and how much time they have for storytelling etc.  Publishers can play a role here by providing teacher resources to go with their books.  We know that these can be really helpful particularly if it’s pointed out what the book could be used for.


What does the future hold for translated children’s books?

No one really knows what the future holds.  However, there has been a positive trend over the last few years and there definitely does seem to be much more interest in translated books with new independent publishers and translation projects.  We can only hope that this trend will continue.


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