A creatively translated world for little ones

posted in: Nadia Budde | 11

Today I’ve my last review for this month as part of Gathering Books’ Award Winning Book Challenge, and again it’s a picture book which has won the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (German Youth literature prize).

One, Two, Three, Me by Nadia Budde is a board book for the pre-school / nursery crowd. It is a quirky take on the “learn about the world around you” type of book with an exploration of colours, shapes, weather, locations, clothes, sizes and emotions/characteristics. Told in rhyme with naive, childlike drawings that reminded me a little both of Finnish illustrator Hannamari Ruohonen and Dutch illustrator Babette Harms, this is not your average toddler learning book, and is so much more fun for all that.

The choice of vocabulary is interesting (eg “gigantic, average, wee” when talking about size, or “spotted, plaid, pale” when talking about colours and patterns), and the animals modelling the cloths / locations / emotions etc are unusual: you’ll meet boars, cockroaches, rats, moose and a gnu!

The unusual lexical and illustrative choices made by Nadia Budde ensured that was this book inherently more interesting to read than many of its ilk. Whilst I wouldn’t be surprised if some parents felt happier with a more conventional approach, for example Kali Stileman’s Big Book of My World (which I reviewed here), the slightly anarchic slant taken by this book meant I loved reading it aloud, my enjoyment came across to J, and she too discovered a new book to love.

So now for a slightly geeky diversion, if you’re interested in translation. As a rhyming book, and a book where there is a close connection between the text and the images I was curious to find out how it had been translated.

Nadia Budde’s book is called Eins Zwei Drei Tier (One Two Three Animal) in the original German. A little rooting around has shown that not only has the translation been creative, Nadia Budde also must have redrawn some of the images for the English language version. Here are some images from the original book side by side with the corresponding images from the translated version.

German and English frontcovers. Note the different animal at the end of the row.
"In bed, at the window, at the table, fish" vs English language version
"Blonde, black, bald, Jackal" vs English language version

I’d love to know more about the process that went on here – the conversations between writer/illustrator, translator and publisher. If you’re a writer/illustrator and have ever had to make such substantial changes to a book of yours, in order for it to be published in another language, I’d love to hear about it.

But moving on…

J loves to rhyme so it seemed very natural for us to make our own sing-song version of One, Two, Three, Me. J came up with the rhymes and then illustrated them for her own book about her world. Here’s her poem in full:


Ewan, Alfie, Molly, Dolly

In a dress, in a t-shirt, in a cloak, what a joke!

triangle, semi-circle, square, chair

in the clouds, in the sun, in the light, bike

Ginormous, medium, teeny, what a meanie

red, blonde, black, sack

filled with snacks, filled with bread, filled with presents, elephant

trumpetty-trump, raa, moo, you!

I gave her prompts for each line but J had tremendous fun “filling in the blanks” and especially coming up with the rhymes. Whilst not the most detailed of books, she’s tremendously proud of it and it’s become a favourite to read together at bedtime alongside the original which inspired it.

Whilst helping J make her book we listened to:

  • 1-2-3-Sesame Street feat. Stevie Wonder
  • 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 by Woody Guthrie
  • One, Two, Buckle my Shoe by Pete Weatherall

  • Other activities which might work well alongside reading One, Two, Three, Me include:

  • Learning about numbers – here’s a tutorial for making applique number beanbags that I’m sure young kids would enjoy playing (and learning) with.
  • Learning about weather by observing it and recoding it – I love Se7en’s free yearly weather tree.
  • Learning about colours using this colour collecting board idea from A Bit of This and a Bit of That

  • Can you recommend any picture books that are particularly interesting from the translation point of view? Books that posed particular problems for translation, but that were nevertheless translated successfully?

    11 Responses

    1. Donna McKinnon

      Hmm…I’d love to know why these changes were made too! Seems unnecessary, although both versions are very charming. Reminds me of the Swedish picture book Else-Marie and the Seven Little Daddies (reviewed in 32 Pages)-and the removal of the communal bathing scene for the North American version. Of course, with ‘One, Two, Three, Me’, it was an aesthetic decision rather than censorship, but you gotta wonder why the jackal was switched out for the giraffe in the English version! Must have been an interesting editorial meeting. I hope the illustrator got paid twice. Sadly, I don’t pay much attention to board books since I left the bookstore, but I certainly remember some very lovely titles. Your review made me very wistful. I’ll have to dive back in.
      Donna McKinnon recently posted..Pigs On Ice

    2. Linda Baie

      I found your blog through the award challenge. Your review of the translated board book is interesting, and I especially enjoyed your background research of the changes that had occurred from the original German book. The book does look cute & I’m sure my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter would enjoy it. Thanks!
      Linda Baie recently posted..My One Little Word – Needed Exploring

    3. Jen

      I want to know why they were changed too! I wonder if it’s just one of those things where someone has more time to think about something and then changes it. I do that all the time with writing!

      Love your filling in the blanks activity, hope you don’t mind if I steal it!
      Jen recently posted..Sora and the Cloud

    4. Zoe

      Hi Donna, Jen, Linda,

      I think some of the changes were made simply to ensure a good rhyme in English – “bald” and “jackal” rhyme in German, and the creative team had to come up with something to do with hair colour and an animal for it to rhyme with (hence “half and half” followed by “giraffe”). I’m also interested in the fact that it must have been the concept of the book (rather than the actual book) that was sold into English – so many changes have been made that I wouldn’t really say it is the _same_ book.

    5. Elli

      One thing you don’t mention is who the translator was. Please don’t forget them! On the odd occasion when I’ve had to translate something more literary (when I’m not writing poems I’m a Thai to English translator), I’ve had great fun trying to come up with something that alliterates and/or rhymes in both languages.
      I loved J’s poem – she’s obviously a poet in the making.
      Elli recently posted..Toys that go Bite in the Night

      • Zoe

        Sorry Elli, I absolutely should have done, although it is not clear who the translator was. On the front cover of the English language version there is a second name – Jeremy Fitzkee – but I can’t be sure what role he played in the book.

    6. maggy,red ted art

      Oooh thank you for this review! I am particularly interested in the original, as my children are growing up bilingually. Maybe the unusual choice of words is really good for us to help build vocabulary in the weaker language (German). And as the text is so simple it will give us plenty of time to discuss any unknown words. It is going on my wish list!

      maggy,red ted art recently posted..How to… Make Jar Terrarium

    7. Myra from GatheringBooks

      Hi Zoe! That’s an interesting question that you posed – I’m part of the organizing committee of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content this 2012 here in Singapore and we are planning on having a panel on translation – books that have been translated, the challenges faced by translators, the whole shebang. I am not sure whether we’re still pushing through with that panel, but you’ve raised great questions here that I’d be sure to ask if I’d have a chance to sit in that session. Great books, by the way! 🙂 And yes, my library list is growing longer by the mile. 🙂
      Myra from GatheringBooks recently posted..AWB 2012 Database

    8. choxbox

      Zoe if you are an Asterix fan (like me!) then Peter Kessler’s A Complete Guide to Asterix is worth getting hold of – my favourite is the part that talks about how Anthea Bell translated the original works from French to English. Amazing insights.

    9. Zoe

      Hi Maggy,
      I think you make a great point about the slightly unusual vocab choices – they’re definitely enriching, and make the reading more interesting.

      Hi Myra,
      Your panel sounds fascinating – do keep me posted on developments 🙂

      Even in Australia,
      Oh I’d love to see some Dr Seuss in spanish – can’t imagine how that’s been translated!

      Hi Choxbox,
      Thanks for the tip, have added it to my library wishlist.
      Zoe recently posted..Kidlit radio and news #4

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