“If we go searching, if we hold up, we find, we champion stories by communities that have hitherto been silenced and unheard, there is so much dazzling good that will come of it.”
Katherine Rundell, Children’s Author.
During The Bookseller Children’s Conference 2020, a great many speakers shared words of hope and inspiration such as those quoted above. Myself and fellow Edinburgh Napier Publishing students had the privilege of attending this conference two weeks ago, witnessing discussions of hope, belonging, connection, and (under)representation in relation to children’s fiction. Each session had something important to say, however, the true jewel of the conference for me was listening to award-winning children’s author, Ibtisam Barakat, discuss her latest Arabic children’s title: The Lilac Girl. The talk focused on the importance of translated children’s literature, and its unique ability to tell untold stories from across the world in accessible ways.
During her interview, Barakat’s passion for her award-winning book shone incredibly brightly, as she explained her desire to reach children globally through her stories in both Arabic and English.
“The Lilac Girl is groundbreaking, because it is the first book that addresses the Six Day War from a Palestinian child’s perspective […] It is the only book that does this in Arabic or in English.“
I’ve thought about this statement a lot over the last two weeks. As a white, Scottish woman, I am privileged to be able to ‘see’ myself in a number of fiction titles. Alas, the same cannot be said for every child. For this very reason, previously untold tales like The Lilac Girl are so irrevocably important, in order for Palestinian children to see themselves in books — and for others to hear and witness these stories.
Encouragingly, translated literature is on the rise in the UK. September 2020 was #WorldKidLitMonth, dedicated to translated children’s literature, “with the objective of increasing and encouraging diverse and multicultural reading from an early age.” And of course, many of our most-beloved fairy tales such as The Little Mermaid, Hansel & Gretel, and The Snow Queen are translated fiction, originally written in Danish and German.
Regrettably, non-Western translated children’s fiction titles are more of a rarity, however recent data from Nielsen is promising, confirming that the UK market is taking a growing interest in Arabic, Chinese, Polish and Icelandic translations.
Indeed, all languages deserve to have their stories told across the world, in ways that multiple people — especially children — can understand through translation. As Katherine Rundell said during her heartwarming author manifesto at the conference:
“There are so many cultures that need to be heard, not just by children who have come from those cultures, but also children everywhere. There is this sense that it is not just a duty, but that it is a pathway to enormous good.”
It is vitally important that children’s books continue to be translated from all languages — especially under-represented ones — in a way that is accessible to as many people as possible, to foster hope, connection and belonging for all children, internationally. These stories need to — and deserve to — be told and heard. They cannot afford to be lost in (non)translation.