Today at the London Book Fair a number of publishers and researchers came together for the discussion ‘Windows on the World: Supporting the Translation of More International Children’s Books’. In the summary of the topics to be discussed during the event was the question of the underrepresentation of some parts of the world in terms of translated children’s books in the English-speaking world; a very interesting and important question indeed.
While it is to a certain extent a problem with publishing of foreign literature in translation in the UK in general, some languages are particularly underrepresented in this country in translations of children’s and adult literature alike. So, while many citizens will have read La Fontaine’s Contes (Fables) in translation during their childhood, the vast majority will never have seen a Japanese children’s classic in any bookshop.
Asian languages in general and Japanese in particular, are especially rare in children’s literary translations; ironic, since Japan boasts one of the earliest surviving forms of the novel (albeit not a children’s story) in the form of the text The Tale of Genji written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early eleventh century.
Thankfully however, some progress has been made in the last few years. Recently published children’s books in translation from Japanese include The Sad Song of Okinawa: Life Itself is Our Most Precious Treasure written by Maruki Toshi and Maruki Iri and translated by Kinjo Haruna and Andrea Good, and J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 written by Shogo Oketani and translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa.
In an interview last year, Avery explained her role as translator in the English publication of this latter book : “I learned that a translator can play a role in birthing a book that extends far beyond translating to, in my case, drafting photo captions, working with sidebars, developing website copy, and even writing to authors to request endorsements”. She also emphasised the importance for young learners of being able to access other cultures through a native’s perspective: “[…]books about Japan are often written in English by non-Japanese authors, so it is good to add a translation to the mix written by someone who grew up in the world he is describing.”
Although still slow, the future of children’s literature in translation, particularly from underrepresented Asian languages, does look promising. And with open debate in discussions like that at the London Book Fair regarding this issue, there is every reason to hope that, Japanese children’s classics will become classics for English-speaking young readers as well.
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