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?
Adam Freudenheim (AF): I’ve been publishing children’s books in translation since 2013 with the launch of Pushkin Children’s Books first titles. I had long worked on adult books in translation but initially got interested in children’s books via my own children, who were nine, seven, and five at the time I decided to launch the new imprint in 2012. I couldn’t help but notice that, aside from a few well-known classics, none of the books they were reading or that I was reading to them were in translation; I set out to change that!
WWB: Publishing books for children ages six to twelve—which you’ve described as an underrepresented age group—is a part of Pushkin Children’s Books’s mission. Have you seen more books being published for that age group in the last few years?
AF: In general, yes, I do think that this age group is increasingly well catered to. However, it still seems like very few children’s books for this age group are in translation. There are still far more picture books that get translated.
WWB: You have published some works of classic international children’s literature that hadn’t been published in English before. What made you decide to publish them in translation? Have they been well received? Are you also looking for new children’s stories from around the world?
AF: Our most successful children’s book since the list launched has been the 1962 Dutch classic The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt. We published it in autumn of 2013 and have published multiple different editions since then—every one one of them has been a success and most weeks this book continues to be our best seller, even four years later. Before coming to Pushkin I was the Publisher of Penguin Classics and Modern Classics for nearly a decade, so I’ve had a longstanding interest in classics, especially modern classics. It seemed an obvious move to look for overlooked children’s classics from around the world.
At the same time we remain very interested in contemporary books in translation, and we’ve done very well with the Finnish YA title Maresi, for example, and also published Cornelia Funke’s Reckless series, just to name a couple recent examples.
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)?
AF: Discovering books, whether classics or new gems, is always thrilling. Publishing is always difficult—it’s a truism that most books don’t work, alas!—but the children’s books community is very supportive.
WWB: How do you find the authors/works you publish?
AF: Agents, foreign publishers, translator recommendations, word of mouth.
I’ve had a longstanding interest in classics . . . It seemed an obvious move to look for overlooked children’s classics from around the world.
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?
AF: I look for a great story. It doesn’t have to be completely original, but that doesn’t hurt! Atmosphere and strong characterization are very important, too. I think most good children’s books will have some appeal for adults, though some adults can be a bit snobbish when it comes to children’s books!
WWB: Do you think there has been general upsurge in children’s publishing in recent years? What do you think has brought it about?
AF: Yes, there definitely has. J.K. Rowling has certainly had something to do with the upsurge, as has—in the UK at least—David Walliams. The success of a few big-name children’s book authors has definitely helped attract more attention from publishers, retailers, and the press.
WWB: What is a new or forthcoming title that you are looking forward to sharing with readers?
AF: Can I pick two, please? In January we published a new translation of a Brazilian classic from fifty years ago—My Sweet Orange Tree. It’s an incredibly moving story of growing up in poverty in Rio. It’s beloved around the world but has long been out of print in English—until now! In April we are releasing Boy 87 by Ele Fountain—it’s the story of one boy’s journey from East Africa to the Mediterranean and the many adventures, misadventures, and heartbreak along the way; a story of our times.
WWB: What’s next for Pushkin Children’s Books?
AF: More of the same as well as more English-language original titles, mainly acquired by our editor-at-large Sarah Odedina.
Adam Freudenheim is publisher and managing director of Pushkin Press. He has worked in publishing since 1998 and was publisher of Penguin Classics, Modern Classics, and Reference from 2004 to 2012. He is perhaps best known for helping to rediscover the work of the German writer Hans Fallada, with the first English-language publication of Alone in Berlin by Penguin Classics in 2009. At Pushkin Adam has launched three new imprints, including Pushkin Children's Books and ONE in 2013, and Pushkin Vertigo in 2015. Notable successes at Pushkin include the first ever English translations of Dutch classics and best sellers The Letter for the King and its sequel, along with Gerard Reve’s The Evenings. Most recently, Philip Pullman has raved about the contemporary Swedish children’s book—and winner of the most significant children’s book prizes in Germany and France—The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius, published by Pushkin in September of 2017 to great acclaim.