Saturday, 21 April 2012

A is for Asterix, B is for Babar...

Between the 2012 WordCount Blogathon and a random chain of thoughts fizzing around in my head, I've decided to see if I can blog an A - Z of children's literature in translation through the month of May.

At the moment I've managed to line up potential subjects for nearly every letter of the alphabet, but I'm a bit stuck on W and Z! If anybody has any suggestions, I'd be more than happy to hear them...

Edit: Oops, I mean X, not Z...
I don't quite know where I'll be going with this at the moment, or where it might lead, but I think it'll be fun, and it'll certainly be a challenge!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Norwich: UNESCO City of Literature?

By KoS (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Norwich is a lovely place to live, most of the time, but having just got back from visiting my brother in London, it can seem a little, um, lacking in bustle. And then there's being the butt of lazy jokes about in-breeding, webbed toes etc. So it was rather a pleasant change to read that the Writers' Centre Norwich is leading a bid for our Fine City to become England's first UNESCO City of Literature (Edinburgh is one already).

Obviously I particularly like this bit from  UNESCO's list of criteria:
"Active effort by the publishing sector to translate literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature;"
but the whole idea sounds pretty exciting. Apparently they are expecting news in the next six months or so.

I was also fascinated by the list of literary firsts in Norwich (from the Writers' Centre website):
from the first battlefield dispatch (1075) to the first woman published in English (Julian of Norwich – C15th), the first recognisable novel (C16th), the first blank verse (C16th), the first printed plan of an English city (C16th), the first published parliamentary debates (Luke Hansard – C18th), the largest concentration of published dissenters, revolutionaries and social reformers (C18th /19th ) including Tom Paine and the 30 million bestseller, Anna Sewell; the first provincial library (1608), first municipality to adopt the Library Act (1850), first provincial newspaper (1701), first British MA in creative writing (the first student of the first MA was Ian McEwan (1971)), the UK’s first City of Refuge (2006) for persecuted writers and a founding member of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) and to cap it all, the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library (C21st) has the highest number of visitors and users in the UK – by far. 
Julian of Norwich and Thomas Paine I knew about, and the MA in creative writing is pretty inescapable in these parts, but the local connections of Anna Sewell and Luke Hansard were new to me.

So I wish the bid every success and will wait to see what happens. Meanwhile I will enjoy being a very small cog in a much more literary machine than I ever realised!
By Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA (Books of the Past) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?I've been meaning to review Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos for some time now, having been given it for Christmas. I found it a fascinating book and very entertaining, although not always as playful as its title. Whether or not it would be such an easy read for somebody with no prior knowledge of translation, I don't know, but I enjoyed the chatty, annecdotal tone as well as insights into aspects of the profession I'm unfamiliar with. The history of simultaneous interpreting, for example, or the mechanics of translation at the EU or the UN, as well as the dragomen of the Ottoman Empire. I also appreciated Bellos' spirited defense of the importance and possibility of translation - he firmly believes that everything can be translated - and the way he takes issue with the idea of les belles infidèles (beautiful but unfaithful, whether referring to women or translation),  poetry getting "lost in translation", that translation is no substitute for the original, and so on.

(I must confess that I was rather childishly pleased to see lolspeak among the languages into which the title is translated on the inside cover of the book: U has gots fish in ur eer?!11 Translayshun and da Meening of stuffz...)

I am, however, less convinced than he seems to be about the usefulness of Google translate, having seen articles like this one, for example, although I take his point that a sentence such as:
"On the part of for the protection of the mansion building occurring it was made valid that a feedback of the building condition was not at all possible on the time Klimts due to documentation lacking."
 is clearly nonsense, where an inaccurate translation produced by a human being would be impossible to spot without knowledge of both languages.

 This is such a comprehensive survey of the history and practice of translation that it would be impossible to summarise here. If you think it's going to be about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (as some Amazon reviewers seem to have done), then you might be in for a disappointment. If, on the other hand, you're even the slightest bit interested in words, language or what it is that translators and interpreters actually do then I'd highly recommend that you read this book! 

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Anything by Emily Gravett

My current answer when asked for picture book recommendations is "Anything by Emily Gravett," and here's why: I haven't yet come across one of her books that I haven't liked, and they're big hits with the boys too. All her books are beautiful, as befits someone who has twice won the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration, and the stories are equally charming.

Fils cadet is particularly taken with Blue Chameleon at the moment, while Fils aîné prefers Again!

Blue Chameleon by Emily GravettAgain by Emily Gravett
Blue Chameleon is very simple and definitely more suited to younger ones, yet it has plenty to discuss on each page. It tells the story of a little chameleon looking for a friend and adapting its shape and colour to match the various objects it finds along the way - a snail, a sock and a cowboy boot, for example. As well as spotting the colours, we can discuss the way the chameleon is feeling as it gets progressively more dejected until at last it meets another chameleon and the two walk off together in a joyful explosion of colours.

Again! introduces a scenario familiar to every parent and child at bedtime. Cedric the little dragon has one favourite story, and he wants his mum to read it. And again, and again, and again! Dragons being what they are, when Cedric loses his temper, the results are startling and very funny. Fils aîné thinks so anyway, bounding around with excitement and bellowing "again!" I, on the other hand, find myself entirely in sympathy with Cedric's mum, wearily changing the story with each repetition before falling asleep herself...

Both of these are books we've had out of the library before, and have out of the library at the moment, and undoubtedly will have out of the library again in the future, given the rapture with which they were rediscovered last week. Others that I'd particularly recommend are Meerkat Mail for older children and Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear for younger ones. But like I said, anything by Emily Gravett is bound to be good!