Children's literature in translation
August 14, 2009 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Jules Verne. Hans Christian Anderson. Don Quixote. The Brothers Grimn. Pippi Longstocking. They say that Americans don't read books in translation (only 874 of the 185,000 books published in the US in 2004 were adult literature books translated from other languages, according to this link), but I'm sure that more than 0.4% of my childhood canon was from non-English sources. Help me add to the list!

Recently I was chatting with some Swedish tourists, who were shocked that I knew about Pippi Longstocking. "Are you kidding me?" I asked them. "I saw the movie. Heck, I think I even had the lunchbox."

I'm sure that there are lots of other books I read as a kid that were in translation, but right now I'm drawing a blank. Oh, and I was disappointed to learn that my absolute fave, The Scarlet Pimpernel, was written in English and not French. And Zorro, another absolute fave, also originally in English. So disappointing.
posted by math to Writing & Language (41 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Aesop's Fables? The Bible?
posted by box at 6:15 AM on August 14, 2009

One Thousand and One Nights
posted by mdonley at 6:19 AM on August 14, 2009

Babar the Elephant? Written originally in French. As was The Little Prince.
posted by MasonDixon at 6:20 AM on August 14, 2009

The Little Prince, Antoine de St-Éxupery.
Babar, Jean de Brunhoff
Tin-tin, Hergé
posted by oinopaponton at 6:21 AM on August 14, 2009

Off the top of my head ... the Babar books.
posted by gudrun at 6:22 AM on August 14, 2009

... sigh ... should have previewed ....
posted by gudrun at 6:22 AM on August 14, 2009

Asterix the Gaul.
posted by alms at 6:24 AM on August 14, 2009

The Three Musketeers.
posted by alms at 6:29 AM on August 14, 2009

The Smurfs = Les Schtroumpfs

(Yes, it was a TV series, but I also had the books!)
posted by cider at 6:29 AM on August 14, 2009

I came to add Tin-Tin and The Little Price. I see I am not necessary.

If you're looking for causes, I doubt that it's "Americans don't read them", since as you said you didn't even realize the origins of the books. I'd be curious why more aren't published, though. Extra costs? Higher risk? Xenobibliophobia?
posted by rokusan at 6:33 AM on August 14, 2009

Moomins - originally in Swedish. Barbapapa - originally in French.
posted by eatyourcellphone at 6:35 AM on August 14, 2009

Pinocchio - originally in Italian.
posted by peachfuzz at 6:40 AM on August 14, 2009

The biggest best seller since they have had best seller lists has been, as box said, the Bible.

Everyone Poops?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:40 AM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agaton Sax
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:47 AM on August 14, 2009

Miffy comes from the Netherlands. Barriers to publication in English-speaking territories are probably lower with this kind of book, as the amount of text in each book is very small and can be quickly and easily translated. Perhaps you're only interested in longer, more text-heavy books?

Oh, and if Americans read Asterix and Tintin, I guess some of them read Lucky Luke too?

And I suppose children today read all sorts of translated manga.
posted by eatyourcellphone at 6:50 AM on August 14, 2009

Not sure if the Diary of Anne Frank counts?
posted by Salamandrous at 6:51 AM on August 14, 2009

Charles Perrault, french author, penned Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.
posted by gushn at 6:56 AM on August 14, 2009

I'm not sure it's my age or locale, but I'm the only American I know who knows/loves Tintin. That may change once the movie comes out.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:01 AM on August 14, 2009

Also the Three Billy Goats Gruff is of Norwegian in origin.
posted by gushn at 7:03 AM on August 14, 2009

Swiss Family Robinson.
posted by orthogonality at 7:04 AM on August 14, 2009

Another one from Switzerland - Heidi. Bambi was originally an Austrian novel. Probably more people are familiar with the Disney film now (same thing with Pinocchio).
posted by eatyourcellphone at 7:07 AM on August 14, 2009

Grimm's Fairy Tales.
posted by torquemaniac at 7:15 AM on August 14, 2009

Ronia the Robber's Daughter.
posted by Ladybug Parade at 7:17 AM on August 14, 2009

posted by tylerfulltilt at 7:46 AM on August 14, 2009

Umm, perhaps overly obvious, but anything by Hans Christian Anderson or the Fables de la Fontaine?

Also, Les Miserables and the Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, Les Malheurs de Sophie (or "Sophie's Misfortunes") by the Comptesse de Segure, the Count of Monte Cristo , the Three Musketeers and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Comic wise, apart from Asterix and Tintin, there's Lucky Luke.
posted by litleozy at 9:02 AM on August 14, 2009

For all the people who have said the Bible: remember the apocryphal tale of people saying that "if English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me".

Also, is it all English-speakers that don't read books in translation, or just Americans? If it's English-speakers in general, then this phenomenon might have to do with just the sheer number of things published in English. It would be interesting to know if speakers of other "major" European languages (French, German) tend to read less translated works than speakers of "minor" European languages (say, Swedish, since it was a Swede who started this whole conversation). Perhaps people in general prefer to read things that were written in their native language, but only those whose language is more common can have that luxury.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:16 AM on August 14, 2009

The Neverending Story, translated from the German.

The Princess Bride, translated from the Florinese. Heh.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:18 AM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Little Mermaid? La Petite Serene?
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 9:18 AM on August 14, 2009

Oh and the Marsuplialami (although, can't really find the comics out of France, but the TV series is well known)
posted by litleozy at 9:20 AM on August 14, 2009

The Little Mermaid? La Petite Serene?

Actually orignal version is Danish.
posted by litleozy at 9:21 AM on August 14, 2009

Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault, and the brothers Grimm accounted for an awful lot of my childhood reading (generally in translations from the Andrew Lang "{Color} Fairy Books").

Also the aforementioned Pippi Longstocking, Tintin, Asterix, and Babar.

Some other children's classics English-speaking readers enjoyed in translation: Bambi by Felix Salten; Heidi by Johanna Spyri, Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kaestner.

An immense favorite of mine when I was a kid (I must have read it a dozen times) was My Great-Grandfather and I by James Kruss. If you can possibly find a copy of this, I recommend it (though I haven't read it in 30+ years)--my recollection of it is as a magical story about growing up in a little island community with grandparents and great-grandparents who are full of legends and stories.

Madeline was originally published in English, but apparently Bemelmans wrote it in French and then translated it himself with the help of his wife.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:06 AM on August 14, 2009

One small data point: When reading books in translation, it often feels like there something missing. Like some layer of subtlety that the author had woven in is gone. This was even apparent as a child, although I was very suprised to learn that Tintin was not actually English.
posted by Jilder at 10:11 AM on August 14, 2009

I just e-mailed my Children's Librarian friend and she said the following regarding more recent books:

..."there's an ALA award for translated children's books:
[Batcheler Award] Oddly, they award it to the publisher of the translated-to-English edition, not to the author or to the individual or team who did the translating."

Link to winners. I think the biggest name I see on there are Cornelia Funke's books.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:12 AM on August 14, 2009

idk how you define children's, but all those scary Russian novels we had to read in high school were translated. Crime and Punishment, A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich, etc.
posted by Precision at 12:31 PM on August 14, 2009

There is actually quite a bit of Lindgren in circulation other than Pippi. I know I read the wonderful Brothers Lionheart as a kid. Ah, leave it to the Swedes to write a childrens book about suicide. Also bedtrayal, death and opression. Wiki is spoilerific, read the book instead.

Less wonderful but also great is Mrs Pepparpot from Norwegian author Alf Prøysen.
posted by Iteki at 1:00 PM on August 14, 2009

how is don quixote a children's book?

One thing about kid's books is that it's more the stories than the language that matter (or sometimes the pictures - le petit prince would not have been the same without the images...) - ancient greek myths were a major interest to me as a kid, but I didn't read one author's version of them - there were all sorts of different retellings. I also had collections of "classic german fairy tales" and "classic russian fairy tales" and I think "classic italian" also... what seemed like huge books at the time, full of rich and mysterious cultural tales. But I have no idea if they were direct translations of anyone in particular.

As an adult when I read a translation, it's not a universal tale I'm connecting to, but an individual voice that may well have lost something by being reformatted into a new language. All the same, certainly far more than 0.4% of my adult bookshelf is translated material, so I'm not sure anecdotes will prove your point.
posted by mdn at 1:36 PM on August 14, 2009

Struwwelpeter - from Germany. One English translation was done by Mark Twain.
posted by eatyourcellphone at 2:42 PM on August 14, 2009

The Iliad and the Odyssey, Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome. I read a lot of these as a kid.
posted by Lynsey at 6:44 PM on August 14, 2009

As a young and voracious reader, I also loved The Brothers Lionheart, by Astrid Lindgren, the author of Pippi. This book inspired my nickname, although nobody ever gets the reference.
posted by KatlaDragon at 12:43 AM on August 15, 2009

Response by poster: Hey, what about Curious George... it was written in Paris by a German, Hans Augusto Rey, but I can't tell what language it was written in.
posted by math at 7:00 AM on August 16, 2009

"The Reys had signed a contract for "[The Adventures of] Fifi" with French publisher Gallimard" when the Nazis invaded. It looks like the (Jewish) Reys fled the country while Fifi was still in manuscript, moved to New York, and sold a revised English-language version to Houghton Mifflin as Curious George. There's a reference on another page to H.A. Rey being fluent in French, English, and German.
posted by ormondsacker at 3:07 PM on August 17, 2009

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