This month our Publishing Masters degree course was very kindly given access to the Bookseller Children’s Conference which this year was to be held online as a result of… well, you know. The event consisted of a well organised program of talks, discussions and presentations all about the wonderful world of children’s book publishing and I can happily say I enjoyed every last minute of it. All participants were engaging and interesting, and I felt I had been given a real insight into a corner of the industry I had never really had on my radar before now.

My interest was piqued by a discussion hosted by the chair of Ibby, Pam Dix, with Ibtisam Barakat, a Palestinian born author, poet, translator and artist. Barakat had recently been awarded the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Children’s Literature in Translation. She spoke with elegance about awards she had won for literary works in English and Arabic from the age of just 13 and the impact that winning these awards has had on her life and herself. She also spoke about The Lilac Girl, the novel which earned her the Sheikh Zayed award, and the way in which this book combined everything she knew about writing in Arabic and English and instilled it into a story.

Towards the end of the discussion, the conversation turned towards translation. It’s a topic close to my heart as it was the subject of my undergraduate degree and anything on the theory of translation immediately grabs my attention. However Barakat’s angle was slightly different. Rather than being a direct representation of the original text, which would not be quite accurate anyway, she talked about the translation being a third option, not belonging to the original language or the translated one, but a creative entity of its own. She uses the example of the English translated Qur’an, which from her perspective does not represent in any way the original text.

Instead she makes the case for more language learning. For more people to have the opportunity to understand what it means to have two (or more) words in more than one language that represent the same thing. She evokes the different textures of languages, how the word for bread in Arabic has different connotations, a different sound and music and nurturance to it than the word we have in English. Barakat really brought to life for me the idea that languages are beautiful and dynamic entities in themselves, and never just reflections of another as they may appear to be in a translation.
In the beginning of the presentation she alluded to the idea that writing allows authors to be a part of leading humanity, in showing us the way to better lives through art, and in this way too learning languages can bridge gaps between people, through the commitment to cultural and historical awareness you make when starting the journey.