The adaptation of books

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One of the best experiences I get whilst doing the Translating the World Project is the little surprises that appear along the way. That’s the case of the Finnish book I am translating: the Polish version is a rhymed text but the original book wasn’t written in verse! Yet children’s books are rich in literary devices such as rhyme. The texts include songs, chants, alternations of prose and verse, popular sayings, etc. That is why the fact that the Polish translator decided to adapt the original book into a rhymed version is not so shocking. However, it is very interesting in terms of translation methods and techniques.

Pieni suuri tarina huomisesta (in English, “The Little Big Story about Tomorrow”) by Réka Király is a lovely story that deals with a very philosophical topic: time. It’s a concept that has always puzzled young readers and audiences because, until they are 5 or 6 years old, children have a very abstract understanding of “time”. At ages 3 and 4 they can recognize what it means that an event happens before or after another but until ages 5 and 6 they won’t fully get the meaning of time connected with specific events in the day. It’s actually the concept of “future” that children have a hard time to comprehend. Children are the representatives of the present time. They like to know what they are going to do today and they do not care about plans for the future – that’s the adult territory.

The owl in this story wants to understand what tomorrow means. The answer it gets from the other animal friends are all based on actions (yesterday I DID that, today I DO this and tomorrow I will…). It gets really funny when the animals start to believe that tomorrow is a living being that “is coming”. Finally – spoiler alert! – they will get the concept of tomorrow by getting invited to a party.

Now, as I have said earlier, the Polish version of the book has been translated in verse. Without knowing the reasons behind that decision it occurs to me that it’s not such a crazy idea. The Polish children are used to rhymed stories, it’s part of the Polish culture, it has been like that for many generations and it’s still fashionable these days amongst young readers. The volumes of rhymed stories fill many shelves in any Polish bookstore. It’s something that comes naturally. The philosophical approach of the story provides the perfect conditions for a rhymed version. The text has been adapted to a form that the Polish children, who are the target audience, will find natural. And that must have been the ultimate motivation of the Polish translator, Dorota Kyntäjä.

So even when the form of the text has been shaped to rhyme, the content of the story is pretty similar, with the obliged differences that the adaptation requires to be able to rhyme the text. The result is a fine collection of verses that read well and that do justice to the wonderful story created originally by Réka Király.

Luisa is a literary translator with a very particular agenda: she has challenged herself to translate a children’s book from every country in the world. In her blog “Translating for Children” she writes about this project and about everything related to diversity in children’s literature. This post originally appear on her blog

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