WWB Daily is excited to introduce a new series on children’s literature in translation. In recent years, a proliferation of books in translation for children and young adults has brought imaginative stories from around the world to new readers. We’re speaking with some of the extraordinary publishers who make these books possible about their experience working in this vital field.
Words Without Borders (WWB): How long have you been publishing children’s literature in translation and what inspired your decision to do so?
Elsewhere Editions (EE): It was a few years ago when we began to speak practically about publishing children’s books. We felt it was a very natural extension of our mission at Archipelago—to broaden the American literary landscape by translating visionary voices from around the world. Very little international literature is translated into English, and that figure is even smaller for children’s literature. We believe that kids deserve not only to recognize themselves and their own experiences in books but also to experience different ways of seeing and living. Beyond simply finding beautiful picture books from beyond our borders, we wanted to look specifically for less didactic, more imaginative texts. We are interested in books that ask questions rather than provide answers.
WWB: How did you select Claude Ponti’s My Valley as your launch title? And how have you found the other authors/works you’ve published, or are planning to publish, with Elsewhere?
EE: When we encountered My Valley (pictured left) at the Bologna Book Fair in 2015, we were immediately captivated. Claude Ponti was awarded the Prix Sorcières Spécial in 2006 for his lifetime achievement. He himself has said, “My stories are like fairytales, always situated in the marvelous, speaking to the inner lives and emotions of children. That way each child can get what he or she wants out of the images: the characters and dreams are their own.” We felt like children in that moment, falling into his gorgeous and immersive illustrated world, and we couldn’t wait to hand a copy of My Valley to everyone we knew—children and adults alike.
Our first five children’s authors (Claude Ponti, from France; Roger Mello, from Brazil; Jostein Gaarder, from Norway; Cao Wenxuan, from China; and Mauri Kunnas, from Finland) are already renowned in their countries of origin and elsewhere in the world. We chose them because they have each created a universe that is instantly recognizable as theirs, in their art and language, and in spirit. And we chose these titles specifically because we felt that each of them was representative of those universes and would serve as good introductions for American readers.
WWB: What have been some of the most exciting aspects of the undertaking so far? What (if any) have you found to be the most challenging aspect of publishing children’s literature (as opposed to literature for adults)?
EE: It’s been a joy to discover new communities of booksellers and librarians devoted to children’s literature and to build relationships within those communities. We have met so many brilliant, kind, and enthusiastic people through this new venture. And, of course, watching kids and adults respond to the books as they make their way into the world has been our greatest pleasure.
We are interested in books that ask questions rather than provide answers.
WWB: Are there any underrepresented languages or countries that you’re particularly drawn to, and are there literary traditions in children’s literature from other countries that you’re keen for Elsewhere to share with English readers?
EE: So far we’ve acquired works of children’s literature from Norway, France, Brazil, China, Switzerland, Finland, Estonia, and the Netherlands. We certainly want to grow that list, particularly outside of the Eurosphere. It would be a joy to find an excellent African picture book. We are also seeking books we might translate from smaller languages and indigenous languages. But generally we are looking for international writers and illustrators who have created their own universe (in language, in images, in spirit) and who take children seriously as readers and thinkers.
WWB: What are you looking for in a children’s story as a publisher and as a reader? What do you think draws a child into a story? Do you think that a good children’s book will always have some appeal for adults as well?
EE: Elizabeth Bird recently wrote that children “. . . are professional lingerers. Beset by boredom from every side, they can place a picture book on the floor and simply lose themselves in the art and style. They don’t get a chance all that often, but when a book like My Valley comes along, surely it’s too good an opportunity to pass up.” We were delighted to read those words because they captured our intention so perfectly. We want to publish books that let children explore, discover, and dream. And, of course, adults are often searching for the same experience.
Image: Feather, by Cao Wenxuan (Elsewhere Editions, 2017).
WWB: What is a new or forthcoming title that you are looking forward to sharing with readers?
EE: We’re particularly excited about a title that was just published this fall: Feather, a collaboration between two recent Hans Christian Andersen Award winners. Written by Cao Wenxuan (2016 recipient) and illustrated by Roger Mello (2015 recipient), it is an adventurous yet meditative picture book that expertly balances a deep understanding of the human condition with great hope. The book has received starred reviews in Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. In the New York Times Book Review, Maria Russo called it a “lovely and, yes, profound tale . . . Mello’s striking art makes each page a bright color, each avian portrait an evocative surprise.”
WWB: What’s next for Elsewhere?
EE: We want to publish children’s books from all corners of the world! We also plan to publish many more books by Claude Ponti, Roger Mello, and other authors in our new list—to be a home for them here, and to continue offering their work to English readers.
Elsewhere Editions, a new imprint of Archipelago Books, is a nonprofit children’s press devoted to translating visionary picture books from all corners of the world. Our hope is that these titles will enrich children’s imaginations and cultivate curiosity about other cultures, as well as delight adults with their humor, art, and playful spirit. We want to build a list of books that show faith in children as enthusiastic, sensitive, and serious readers. Recent titles include Claude Ponti’s My Valley, translated by Alyson Waters; Jostein Gaarder’s Questions Asked, illustrated by Akin Düzakin and translated by Don Bartlett; Roger Mello’s You Can’t Be Too Careful!, translated by Daniel Hahn; Cao Wenxuan’s Feather, illustrated by Roger Mello and translated by Chloe Garcia Robets; and Maura Kunnas’s Goodnight Mr. Clutterbuck, translated by Jill Timbers.