is essential to the history of children’s literature. International classics such as Pinocchio, The Swiss Family Robinson, Heidi, Alice in Wonderland, the set of stories known as the Arabian Nights and, above all, Little Red Riding-Hood, Cinderella, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and other tales from the collections of Charles Perrault, the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen have all inspired new directions and genres in children’s literature across the world. In the 21st cent., the global success of the Harry Potter series and the widespread translation of Japanese manga are fresh manifestations of the literary travels of children’s culture.
Arguments for the publication of translations range from the politically worthy—the potential for increased international understanding—to the literary aspiration of facilitating access to the very best writing for children. In the English-speaking world, the Batchelder Award in the US and the Marsh Award in the UK promote the publication of contemporary literature in translation. Judges seek that fine balance of affective content, creativity, simplicity of expression, and linguistic playfulness that characterizes successful writing, and therefore successful translation, for younger readers. At the upper end of the age range, translators have found particular challenges, where novels addressing the fragility of the adolescent’s self-image demand up-to-date information on rapidly changing youth cultures.
Translators have in the past exercised censorship (the omission of the mutilation of the heels and toes of Cinderella’s sisters in translations of the Grimms’ version of the tale is a frequently cited example), and still face a fundamental dilemma concerning the localization of coinage, foodstuffs, and other cultural markers in order not to alienate inexperienced young readers. Yet children relish difference, provided, as Astrid Lindgren famously commented, that a good translator assists them to re-experience the most distant circumstances. Translation enhances children’s literature through cultural exchange and by acting as a catalyst to a child’s imagination, which will ‘continue to build where the translator can go no further’ (Astrid Lindgren, Babel, 1969: 98). Gillian Lathey’s The Role of Translators in Children’s Literature: Invisible Storytellers (2010) includes profiles of translators Sarah Ardizzone, Anthea Bell, and Patricia Crampton.