Category Archives: Picture book

Translating the Peripheries

Remember Maria Parr? I read her Waffle Hearts a couple of weeks ago, and here she was, at the NRN conference, along with fellow Norwegian (well, half, anyway, and a quarter Dane and a quarter Swede, unless I misunderstood the maths) author Harald Rosenløw Eeg and Danish Merete Pryds Helle. They had come to talk about their writing, as well as take part in the discussion on reading translated children’s fiction.

Maria Parr

Maria read from Waffle Hearts (with her translator Guy Puzey right there in the room) in English, and then in Norwegian. I didn’t understand a word of the latter (well maybe a little, since I had actually read the book) as Maria’s accent is very hard to understand.

Harald Rosenløw Eeg

Nordic mix Harald came next, saying how Jostein Gaarder paved the way with Sophie’s Choice twenty years ago, showing that you can do anything you want. He didn’t feel he wrote YA, but simply wrote to please himself, in a Catcher in the Rye way. He’s grateful for the Norwegian state support to writers, which in effect means they get a sort of minimum wage. Harald read from his untranslated Leave of Absence, a novel inspired by a forgotten rucksack on the Oslo underground, which he’d finished just before the 22nd July 2011. His book felt too close to reality, so he changed a few things after the Oslo bombs. He said he speaks Nynorsk (New Norwegian) but writes in ‘Ordinary Norwegian.’

Merete went from ordinary adult fiction to what she calls digital fiction for children. She has tried a variety of techniques or media, and has settled on apps for iPads. She showed us one ‘book’ featuring children from all the Nordic countries, where the reader would start by choosing their language, and then the characters would meet and talk to each other, and you could learn to recognise different languages.

Merete Pryds Helle

By asking an IT friend what you can do with iOS 8, Merete then wrote stories to fit the technical frames, which could mean (does mean) that the reader might need to shake their iPad violently in order to make the pine cones fall off the tree. Or you could light up the forest by showing your iPad something yellow. Very effective. She had a more traditional looking picture book, where the child can see themselves, and get to choose what happens next (like meeting pandas in China, or ending up on a pirate ship).

If you’d asked me beforehand, I’d have said this didn’t sound like anything that I’d be interested in. If you ask me now, I’d have to say it looked brilliant.

The discussion moved to films, and Maria said she was lucky with the Waffle Hearts film. Harald reckons you have to let others do their work, and that once there is a film, you will never get your characters back. Merete does choose the illustrators for her digital books, but not the voices. And her multiple choice advent calendar has four endings, but also two set days when the choices end up the same, to restore order.

As for language and dialects, that’s a big deal in Norway, while Merete reckons there are barely any regional accents in Danish. People use social accents more, and switch to mainstream Danish when it’s required. Maria is always asked if Nynorsk is important to her writing, which she thinks is strange, because it is simply what’s natural and normal. Harald’s children are better at English than the ‘other Norwegian.’

Guy Puzey

After a break for air – and more cake – we continued with the translation side of things, where the authors and Guy were joined by translator Kari Dickson, who volunteered that she has done ‘a lot of crime.’

Kari Dickson

Too few books in the UK are translations. 2% here as opposed to maybe 30% in Europe. And as Daniel Hahn discovered when he counted books in a bookshop recently, children’s books fare even worse. Kari feels it’s important to read foreign books to help a better understanding of other people and countries.

We were asked about the first translated books that we were aware of reading as children. Astrid Lindgren came first for many, and both Harald and Maria loved Saltkråkan. Roald Dahl is big in Norway. Merete didn’t read Lindgren, but Laura Ingalls Wilder and Agatha Christie (at age 7-8), and Dickens, and she feels Danish children’s fiction is too harsh and doesn’t like it. Guy enjoyed Babar, and discovered Pippi Longstocking at university.

Others mentioned more Lindgren, Paddington, Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas. There was the young Swede whose mother made her her read books about Africa and Vietnam, with not a single Donald Duck anywhere…

And then the peripheries where we live re-appeared in the debate, except for Merete who pointed out that Denmark is the centre of the world, and how her characters dig all the way to China.

Translating picture books is like writing the book from scratch a second time, because the translator has to work out how to make the original shift into another language. Harald’s opinion was that the translator might as well write their own stuff, as he won’t be able to read it anyway.

Squeaking wet snow is a problem. A lot of Nordic fiction describes things that the receiving language and country might not have. London is well known to most, but what the hamlet in Waffle Hearts looked like will be almost unknown, even to people in Oslo.

The session ended with the Norwegian authors saying we need real books to relax with on long journeys, and Merete disagreeing and saying how she would have loved an iPad as a child.

So, we’re all different, but we would benefit from reading each other’s fiction, travelling in our minds, making us feel calmer.

Katie Morag

I’m probably the last person to know that Katie Morag is now on television. Oh well. I know now.

But it can’t possibly be as good as the books! We used to read Katie Morag a lot at Bookwitch Towers, when Offspring were tiny. Now that I’ve recently unpacked the books, I’ve seen with my own eyes quite how many Katie Morag books we actually have. I was suprised, but I shouldn’t have been, really, as Mairi Hedderwick knows how to make a good book; great story, wonderful illustrations.

The Isle of Struay

And now we have The Katie Morag Treasury, which means lots of old stories in one volume, with six bonus folk tales, as told at Grannie Island’s Ceilidh. I approached those with some level of suspicion, which was silly of me, because they were fantastic. Too.

I have come to the conclusion, however, that Katie Morag isn’t for children. It’s for us oldies. We love all the romance of living on a remote Scottish island, with a boat once a week, and bad weather all the time. And drop dead beautiful scenery all around. We like the idea of living quietly, with the Aga and the friendly neighbours, living off the sea and the tatties grown in our back garden. A little dancing at the ceilidh every now and then.

Sheer romance, the well-worn, old-fashioned way.

I’d never stopped to notice Katie Morag’s mother openly breastfeeding her baby. But I did now. I suppose it’s very New Age, but life on the Isle of Struay is a dream come true. I wasn’t concentrating on the stories, which are very good, because I could ogle the cottage interiors and the perfect but rough landscape. The scones (I’m sure there were scones) and the public toilets and the tearoom and the sheep, and you know… everything.

Katie Morag

The good thing is that children like these stories too. And there’s some pretty decent morals to those folk tales. I’m a firm believer of inviting a smelly goat to come and live with you. And what’s some spinach-stained clothing between friends?

Height matters

We are slowly putting books onto the ‘new’ shelves. The Resident IT Consultant couldn’t wait, so got working on his four last boxes, the contents of which I had, in a moment of excessive generosity, said he could put on ‘my’ shelves. As long as he put them in double rows. They are only IT books, so can be obscure at the back, at the bottom.

That’s what I think. Anyway, with my crummy eyesight, I can’t see book titles at awkward distances, nor can I bend down to browse in stupid places. The latter has less to do with eyes than knees, though. So my books are going to be in the best spots.

I was hoping he would see the light, and perhaps get rid of a few more books while doing this final sorting. I stood and watched as he worked, since I had a short break from kitchen duties, when he got to a rather tall book. It wouldn’t fit. Wondering if I needed to offer it to share with my picture books on a taller shelf, I never had time to say anything before he muttered, ‘well if it doesn’t fit, that might be a good reason to get rid of it.’ And with that it went on the discard pile. Oh, the happiness of it!

For me. I expect the book was less impressed. Let that be a lesson to you. Make books too enormous, for no obvious reason, and out they go. Possibly never in, in the first place.

Here I Am

Here I Am is a wordless story by Patti Kim, with pictures by Sonia Sánchez. They are lovely pictures, totally different from Shaun Tan’s in The Arrival, but strangely reminiscent of that book anyway. This is about arriving in a strange country, where you know no one, and can’t understand the language, and in the case of the small boy in the story, where you don’t want to be.

Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez, Here I Am

Patti has experienced this herself, having moved to America from Korea many years ago, as a small child. What’s so fascinating about this book, is the fact that Sonia has illustrated a story that has no words, so I would have liked to see how they worked on it.

The boy in this story has brought a memory from his old home. It’s a large seed, and he feels good about it. And then he loses it. He drops it and a little girl runs away with it. He runs after her, but before he finds her again, he has been forced to experience life as it happens around him.

Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez, Here I Am

And that makes him feel better, to the extent that the seed loses some of its importance. He learns about this new place. It’s not so bad.

This is the kind of thing many of us need. We need to be forced out of our comfort zone, or our moping, and go out there.

Numbers, or is it art?

One, three, forty, eighty, one hundred. This Numbers book by artist Paul Thurlby might be ‘simply’ a children’s picture book to teach them numbers.

Paul Thurlby, Numbers

But I don’t think so. It’s art. The adult in me could – almost – be willing to tear the pages out and frame them. Luckily I have no wall space left.

Most books that teach young children numbers go to ten. This one goes to one hundred, by doing one to ten and then the tens up to a hundred. (So you get more for your money…)

Paul Thurlby, Numbers

There is nothing average about these pictures. Take four, for instance. You get the Beatles, the Fab Four, no less. (I just have to tear that one out!)

I know nothing about retro-modern Paul, but it seems he’s also responsible for Alphabet, and I bet that’s wonderful to look at, too.

You don’t need a child for this book.

We hear you, Gloria

This week I found a rather lovely video by Debi Gliori on her blog, Fiddle and Pins. I clicked on it, expecting a few minutes of something, but what I got was 25 minutes of Debi-history.

Debi Gliori video

She begins with her birth, which Debi draws with surprising accuracy (I assume she really remembers this being born stuff), and then she continues to draw her childhood and school years.

There are drawings of her pet dragon (I just knew that’s what Debi would have had) and the nuns at school, and her own first baby.

It’s all very Debi, and just as she was grateful for the library which supplied her with a lifeline in the shape of books to disappear into, there are some of us who are pretty grateful for all of Debi’s books, and those ‘doodles.’

And unlike that silly nun, I do know Debi isn’t Gloria (although it is quite a nice name).

(My own, now quite ancient, interview with Debi isn’t a patch on this video. I should have asked about her dishwasher-like birth…)

A Guide to Sisters

Quite frankly, I expected A Guide to Sisters to be a bit cute and a bit ordinary, the way so many picturebooks for little girls are. Cute is fine, but sometimes you want more.

And you know what? Paula Metcalf has written a very amusing and unusual book, which is nicely – but not too cutely – illustrated by Suzanne Barton.

Paula Metcalf and Suzanne Barton, A Guide to Sisters

There is a guide to tickling, which includes the tickliest body parts of your little sister (did I mention this guide is for the older sister?), as well as showing the reader how to be comfortable while having a good grip on that little sister as you tickle.

Little sisters are like a loaf of bread to begin with, but not one you are allowed to butter. Occasionally there are BOGOF sisters (=twins). They cry and poo and give you lovely kisses. And then they bite. Apparently you are not supposed to give them away, either.

You will always be better than your little sister. You can cheat her out of almost anything if you do things right; ‘one for you, two for me…’ And if you play your cards right, she will tidy your room for you.

But when all is said and done, they are not too bad, those little sisters.