Children’s literature is considered by many as literature that is not ‘serious’ and often, people think that writing a book for children, especially a picture book, is an easy task. I couldn’t agree less. I believe that the people who say this, do not take into account how demanding an audience children can be or how easily they get bored or distracted, let alone how challenging it is to write this interesting, gripping story using a limited vocabulary, since, let’s not forget, children tend to have a more limited vocabulary than adults, especially children that will be reading-or have one read to them-a picture book.
That is why, when we were told that for the MA we had to create a small portfolio of translations of texts no-more-than-a-page-long, I thought of translating a picture book. It would be of the perfect length, it would add variety to the portfolio and it would be challenging. I had in mind a specific writer that I wanted to translate, Eugene Trivizas, an author of over a hundred children’s books who is famous for his puns, imaginative and creative use of language and made-up worlds. I chose a book called “The Whale That Eats War” (Η φάλαινα που τρώει τον πόλεμο), simply because it was the last I had read.
The book is about a blue whale that goes to a specific-made up-country every year in order to eat the war. The book has really nice drawings and no more than eight lines per two pages, sometimes just as little as two lines per two pages. It is addressed to children from the age of four. It is a typical example of what makes the translation-and writing, for that matter-of children’s literature challenging. The whole text is made of short rhyming lines full of humourous puns. Trivizas has also made up some words, like the name of the country where the whale goes every spring, which is ‘Varaduay’. Also, in order to achieve rhyme every time, he has, at points, changed the syntax. Finally, and in my opinion this is what makes this book even more challenging than the rest of Trivizas’ books, because it belongs to Trivizas’ anti-war series, and it is about a whale that eats war, it is full of war vocabulary and is populated by different army officials on their special vehicles.
One is prepared to encounter funny rhymes and puns in a children’s book. The made up words and the creative and non-standard use of language is, also, to be expected in children’s fiction. Finally, if the book is a picture book addressed to four-year-olds, one knows that the language she/he can use will be rather limited. So, I guess, ways of working around the syntax to achieve rhyme could be found, and deletion along with compensation could be used in order to produce a text that has the same effects on the audience, pun wise. But, working with the special jargon of war and mentioning the names of different weapons, vehicles and ranks in the army made the translation of this book even the more challenging. And, since the book is about a whale that eats war and belongs to an anti-war series, maintaining the war vocabulary is crucial.
I find that many words used in the Greek text even though they are clearly words related to the war, are much simpler than their equivalents in English and also, happen to rhyme with common every day words, like βλήματα (missiles) and προβλήματα (problems).Another thing that poses a potential problem is that many of the words related to war in Greek, are translated into English in two words as for example,αεροπλανοφόρα and επιλοχίας that translate into aircraft carriers and sergeant major respectively and thus, having two words in the place of one, could affect the rhythm of the text.
The puns, the made-up words, the funny rhymes and the creative use of language are what make Trivizas’ books so fun to read. As a matter of fact, they are so fun that one thinks of Trivizas as a magic person who speaks that way and is always imagining amazing worlds, but, to me, it is clear that they have been written with a lot of thought; with this translation attempt, I discovered just how much thought amounts to a lot of thought. In the end, I did not translate the book, in order to avoid producing a translation that I was not pleased with. I have decided to give it another try when I will have more time and will be able to think of and make up the alternatives that will do it justice.
Avgi Daferera is a translator of English and Spanish into Greek, and Greek and Spanish into English. She just finished an MA in Writing at Warwick and is currently doing an MA in literary translation at UEA. She is interested in the translation of poetry and children’s fiction. You can contact her at email@example.com.