I have now read الغرفول in English and Arabic dozens of times to my two sons, feeling its texture and rhythm in both languages.
The book is charming—for those who haven’t read it, my goodness! hie thee to a bookstore!—and it features a clever mouse who not only outwits a fox, a snake, and an owl, but also the fearsome…غرفول. The textual rhymes, the charming illustrations, and the different voices it encourages make it a great experience both for the seven-year-old (who can read it aloud, and knows what the mouse is up to) and the two-year-old (who just likes to hear the sinister إلى أين إلى أين، يا فارة يا عزيزتي ؟ )
The more I read it aloud, the more I think that translating a children’s book like The Gruffalo is more akin to translating poetry than to translating simple prose. Different translators could come up with many different versions, some better than others.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think translating a book like الصواريخ الحمراء و جيلي القوس قزم (Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly) presents the same sort of challenge. A color here, a child’s name there, and boom! You’re finished.
But الغرفول, if it’s to maintain its rhyme and its meaning, cannot simply echo the English-language text. What would “Gruffalo crumble” mean in Arabic? (In fact, what on Earth does it mean to my children in English?) So instead, the mouse likes to eat كباب الغرفول.
At some points, I prefer the English text, such as when we get to the last line: “The mouse found a nut and the nut was good.” And at times, I like the Arabic better, such as إلى أين إلى أين، يا فارة يا عزيزتي؟ which lends itself so nicely to a sinister foxy (or owly, or snake-y) voice.
Translating into Arabic for young children has an extra challenge because of the differences between written and spoken Arabic. Young children who are not yet able to read confidently in Arabic have to make a real effort to appreciate the written form.
However, with a book like الغرفول, the leap to appreciation is pretty short. More expensive than many books on the market, but high quality and highly recommended.