Translation Effects on Children’s Books

© Andrew Ebrahim via Unsplash.

 

Movie details are sometimes altered to appeal to wider or local audiences. Disney’s Zootopia is no exception

 

Judy Hopps, the first bunny cop in the modern mammal metropolis called Zootopia, teams up with a cunning fox, Nick Wild, to solve a mystery that could potentially ruin the relationship between different types of animals. One of the characters in Zootopia was customized depending on the aired countries. In the US, Canada, and France, a TV news reporter is a moose, but the same character is seen as a panda in China and as a raccoon in Japan. 

 

Localizing graphics across different countries is just another way to specialize films across the world to make sure films will resonate with audiences,” said Kirsten Acuna, a correspondent for Business Insider. This principle also applies to children’s books.

 

As a children’s book publisher, Star Bright Books makes a concerted effort to include children of all colors, nationalities, and abilities in its books by working with diverse authors and publishing multilingual, multicultural books. Here are some changes made in our books in translation to respect the cultures, religions, and backgrounds of the target audience. 

 

Covers of Animal Colors (English and Navajo/English editions), illustrated by Brian Wildsmith.

 

Just like Zootopia, animal characters are altered when publishing books for different peoples and cultures. In this case, the purpose is not to localize the character, but rather to respect cultural connotations. The original version of Animal Colors by Brian Wildsmith, for example, includes snakes and frogs; however, these animals are believed to bring bad luck in some cultures. As a result, the yellow snake was updated to a yellow chick and the green frog became a green chameleon in the Navajo and Navajo/English bilingual versions of the book.

 

 

A scene from the English edition of Animal Colors by Brian Wildsmith.

 

Character names and objects are also often adapted when translating one language into another in order to make them more familiar to the target audience. In the original Greek edition of Comings and Goings, the main character’s name is Phevos. In the English edition (a 2022 USBBY Outstanding International Books selection), Phevos became Alex. In this way, native English readers can pronounce the main character’s name more easily. Similarly, Phevos and his mother’s meal of mashed potatoes and cabbage was changed to sandwiches and French fries because the latter combination is a common lunch option in the US.

 

The English version of Comings and Goings contains changes to character names and food items. Art from Fotini Tikkou.

 

Certain words and phrases cannot and should not be translated into other languages because readers might misinterpret an author’s intention or find the situation unrelatable. Which sounds better: sushi or raw fish on top of a vinegar rice ball? Translators also choose words and phrases that convey appropriate meaning and sometimes avoid translating word-for-word.

 

Children will immerse themselves in cultural stories when words, characters, and other design elements are adapted for easy understanding. Young readers can travel around the world by safely reading diverse books at home thanks to translators’ careful considerations.

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