When a translated book for children makes the shortlist of an award also open to grown-up books, my heart leaps.
Because yes, children’s literature is literature. And translators of children’s books need plenty of credit and support for their careers, made tenuous by the (currently—we can change this) low demand for #worldkidlit translated into English.
The recognition also helps the book reach librarians, booksellers, and parents—people in position to woo the future audience for global literature.
Such good fortune recently visited Clementine Loves Red, a children’s novel that appeared on the 2017 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation shortlist, together with a novel, a novella, a book of poetry, and a collection of short stories for adults. Clementine Loves Red was authored by Krystyna Boglar, translated from Polish by Zosia Krasodomska-Jones and Antonia Lloyd-Jones*, and illustrated by Bohdan Butenko. The publisher is Pushkin Children’s, a house currently releasing translations of classic children’s books from around the world—including some that have waited for decades.
Clementine Loves Red was published in Warsaw in 1970.
Is that what makes it seem so new? Less confined and self-conscious, more adventurous in setting and telling than other novels for the young?
It unfolds in a stormy forest, and involves a lost girl, broken phone lines, fear, tears, and spooky eyes that glow in the dark. Yet it also includes wild strawberries with clotted cream, plum tarts (for Sundays only), words such as “patter” and “copse,” sibling love, and a character named Phosphorus Twisk. Not to mention a profusion of exclamation marks, all of which seem to fit.
“And I honked the horn to chase her out of the way!”
“What a lark!”
“Not in a million years!”
“Brilliant! Hurray! Fantastic!”
(Exclamations from page 190, on which I dare you not to smile.)
What exactly is this book?
In familiar terms, it is an adventure novel: six children comb through woods for the evasive Clementine. One boy, a Sherlock Holmes fan, leaves a “report” for his policeman father and declares his search a “major operation.” (Adults join in the search as the tale progresses.) But as a reviewer on Amazon.com notes, Clementine Loves Red is really its own genre—”Eastern European screwball kids’ comedy,” perhaps. For as the hunt for Clementine intensifies, children crash into each other, a journalist’s car sneezes, a character nicknamed Pudding calls an expletive an “expletion” (applause to the translators), and villagers briefly wonder if they are in fact tracking a yeti.
Children will guffaw; adults will chuckle despite themselves. Everyone will feel like tramping around in some trees afterward, the copse-ier the better.
The book has a few dated elements that need discussion with children, such as “playing Red Indians,” Sherlock-like pipe smoking, and an old-school circus.
On the whole, however, this book is elixir—for anyone to whom reading itself is a quest, and predictability a far lesser reward than expansiveness, romp, new vistas, new friends. Aren’t these what becoming a bookworm was for?
To begin reading Clementine Loves Red, click here for excerpts.
Clementine Loves Red
Krystyna Bolgar, Bohdan Butenko (Ill.)
Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Zosia Krasodomska-Jones
2017, Pushkin Children’s Books
*Note: When I read in the book’s translator profiles that Antonia Lloyd-Jones is an established translator, and Zosia Krasodomska-Jones an up-and-coming one—and that they have the same last name—I wondered in passing if they were mother and daughter. I was wrong: they connected through a mentorship program. Lloyd-Jones elaborates,
Jones is one of the most common names here in the UK, we’re not related!
In 2016 the Harvill Secker Young Translators Prize was for translation from Polish. I chose the text and was one of the jurors. Part of the prize was a mentorship, but the eventual winner, Tuesday Bhambry, had already been my mentee (the HS prize is judged blind, without any names on the entries). Zosia K-J was the runner-up, so to give her something resembling a mentorship I asked her to co-translate Clementine with me. Now, two years on, she is my official mentee for 2017-18 under the Writers Centre Norwich Emerging Translators Mentorship Programme, but she had to apply for that like any other candidate.
[On Clementine,] Zosia did the hard work and I edited/suggested things. Great way to help an emerging translator to develop their craft.
In announcing the Warwick Prize shortlist, coordinator Dr. Chantal Wright noted, “I’m particularly pleased that with Clementine Loves Red we have a collaborative translation among the shortlistees: this is a new translation model that has come about through the translation mentorship schemes that have been established in the UK over the last few years.”
To which I can only add, “Brilliant! Hooray! Fantastic!”
By Avery Fischer Udagawa