Why Translate Children’s Books (from Arabic)?

I gave a very short talk this morning (I hope, at least, my brevity was appreciated!) at the Sharjah International Book Fair’s pre-fair professional program. It was a follow-up to our discussion yesterday about Arabic literature in (and out of) translation, and I focused in large part on children’s books.

The focus of this blog is generally Arabic children’s books in Arabic. But, since I unfortunately write in English, my plea for a translated children’s literature:

And this is true for even the youngest readers. If we want adults who are interested in world literatures, then I believe we need to grow them.

Books for young readers are perhaps the most difficult to translate. In the translation of a really good picture book, not just every word matters, but every sound. When it doesn’t work—as with some of the Dr. Seuss translations into Arabic—it’s awful.

So why should we do the hard work of translating children’s books at all? Why buy your child طريقتي الخاصّة (which I believe will be published by Orion as My Own Private Way or My Own Special Way) or النقطة السوداء  (The Black Dot) or even Asterix when you could buy him something in his native setting? Because children who love books are innately interested in other worlds.

And children who love good books from around the world will, we hope, become adults who do the same.

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5 Responses to Why Translate Children’s Books (from Arabic)?

  1. joanna says:

    Dear M.Lynx.Qualey
    Interesting point of view about the reasons behind translating children’s books into Arabic, that’s exactly the point of view that we, at Samir Editeur, had when we decided to translate some of Roald Dahl’s titles into Arabic.
    I read this post and was browsing away on your blog as I do many times and discovered that you already had a conversation with a reader about the Dahl translations! If you are still at the Sharjah Book Fair you should be able to find the books on our stand.
    If you need to get in touch for more details about our books and activities or more point of view exchange you can email me on joanna@samirediteur.com

  2. ahach says:

    I agree completely. With English being such a universal language, Anglophone children are not exposed to other cultures and definitely not even half as much as Arab children are exposed to those mentioned in another post of yours (https://readkutubkids.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/in-other-words-when-translation-stifles-local-talent/). As you said (well, perhaps I inferred a little!), an open-minded and multi-cultural perspective starts at a young age. I will be looking out for the newly translated books you mentioned; it should be interesting to have a look at how they have been produced in English. Equally, to translate an Arabic children’s book would be a very exciting project!

    The idea of Roald Dahl in Arabic is great! I need to have a look at that!

    • mlynxqualey says:

      Yes, you know, this is the wrong audience for the post. Perhaps I should develop the idea a bit (as you do for me!) and share it elsewhere.

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