Reviews 2017

Translating Children's Literature

Translating Children's Literature. Gillian Lathey. New York: Routledge, 2015. 161 pages. $44.95 (paperback).

What are the problems experienced by young translators when they face the issues related to translating for children? How can students attending courses in translation studies or children’s literature be assisted to face the variety and complexity of literary texts addressing young readers, listeners and viewers? These are only a few of the challenges explored by Gillian Lathey in Translating Children’s Literature, published as part of the Translation Practices Explained series.

Lathey, a renowned scholar in the field of translation of children’s literature, a judge of the Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in translation, and until recently the Director of the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at Roehampton University, London, is also the author of the following renowned studies: The Translation of Children’s Literature (2006) and The Role of Translators in Children’s Literature: Invisible Storytellers (2010). Translating Children’s Literature opens with a list of titles in the series Translation Practices Explained, which includes course books on various aspects of professional translation practices, for example scientific and technical translation or audiovisual translation. The inclusion of Lathey’s study in the Translation Practices Explained series testifies to the fact that translating for children has been ranked among the translation fields that deserve special attention. It also proves that the complexity of translation for children has been recognized as a discipline requiring specialization in various media, not only in the traditional one of print, but also in the new audio-visual and electronic media. The recognition of the ubiquitous presence of translated children’s literary texts seems to lead to the acknowledgement that children’s literature demands versatile translators.

Lathey herself begins her study with an extensive introduction that is especially valuable for self-learners and students of translation. These are probably the individuals who, despite the situation mentioned above, particularly need to know that the translation of books for children is still likely to be underestimated. The author shows the absurdity of such a view by reminding readers that the boundaries between adult and non-adult fiction are recognizably fluid. She also highlights some particularities of texts for children by stressing their inherent double address, which may lead to several layers of meaning. According to Lathey, this adult-child duality reveals that translation of children’s literature may be a particularly demanding job. However, in order to give a broader insight into the issues of translating for children, the author complements her analysis and conclusions with the expert opinion of others: scholars, critics, authors and illustrators. Thus, Jill Paton Walsh’s reflection on translation of texts for children is quoted to convey "an enlightening encouragement to any writer or translator attempting to understand the artistic potential of writing for the young" (3). To raise the "awareness of the potential narrative and stylistic niceties of writing and translating for children" (4), two versions of the same passage by Roald Dahl are presented: the first as it appears in a short story for adults ("The Champion of the World"); the second as it can be read in the children’s novel, Danny: The Champion of the World.

Lathey’s study examines translated texts from all five continents and refers to works written in more than ten different languages. Readers will not only learn about the features of the translation of children’s classics such as A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh or Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, but they are also offered excerpts from several texts in the source language and in the target version. These sections create an international perspective, an integral and, consequently, an indispensable feature of any study of translation. The originals and the translations facilitate comparative analysis and lead the reader to the recognition of the decisive role of culture in translation procedure. The target context is additionally stressed with reference to the developmental issues of prospective young readers and their socially conditioned expectations, which may be the result of mere manipulation. Therefore, when discussing the ideological dimension of translation, Lathey insists that translators should possess "political finesse" (6) and, if possible, consult the author so that the target reader could discover encoded messages inscribed in the source text.

Translating Children’s Literature consists of seven chapters. The author puts special emphasis on the narrative communication with the child reader (Chapter one), the translation of cultural markers and intertextual references (Chapter two), and on the translating of the visual and audio aspects of texts for children and young people (Chapters three, four and five). Chapter six, discussing retellings, retranslation and relay translation — all typical features of children’s literature and the canon, concludes with the warning that future translators "should also be aware that their published translation might be used as the basis for a relay translation without acknowledgement or payment" (125). The last chapter, "Children’s publishing, globalization and the child reader," focuses on other aspects of translation work, for example, the copyright status of translations and the profiling of translators. The speed of globalization processes in the publishing industry is illustrated with the case of the translation of the Harry Potter series. The very last section of this chapter even envisages the possibilities of engaging child readers in the translation process (138-141).

Since the aim of the book is to assist "would-be translators" (11), each chapter includes a set of exercises, discussion points and further reading. A few sections are also summarized. Such a didactic apparatus containing various types of helpful stimuli for effective work encourages students to read as widely as possible across children’s literature, to consider in a responsible way the discussed themes, and to prepare for informed confrontation with the challenges with which translators sometimes have to deal. Lathey’s book also contains practical suggestions as well as implicit and explicit advice to prospective translators. It thus assists students in acquiring the insight, skills and sensitivity needed in this field. Additionally, it provides an invaluable source of information about the interdisciplinary aspects of translation of children’s literature. Therefore, Translation Practices Explained can, without reservation, be ranked among the essential reading for anyone working on translation of children’s literature either as a scholar or as a future translator.

Darja Mazi-Leskovar
University of Maribor, Slovenia