Posts Tagged ‘Enchanted Lion Books’

Interview with Michael Blaskowsky, Translator of Sato the Rabbit

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

The English version of Sato the Rabbit launches in the US today, nearly 15 years since Yuki Ainoya’s delightful picture book of a boy having adventures dressed like a rabbit was first published in Japan. I caught up with translator Michael Blaskowsky, a self-styled digital nomad, as he hopped across Wifi networks across the Pacific to find out more.

Translator Michael Blaskowsky with the Japanese title that started it all

Andrew (A): Hello Michael, thanks for joining us, and happy book birthday to Sato the Rabbit! For a start, how did you come across this book?

Michael (M): Seattle, oddly enough, was where my wife and I first came across Sato the Rabbit. After our son was born, we wanted to make sure we kept reading him Japanese books and thankfully Seattle and the surrounding cities—with their large Japanese/Japanese American population—stock a large variety of Japanese children’s books. My wife found Sato on the shelves one day and we loved the book so much that we bought the entire series the next time we went back to Japan. About a year later, we came across the US edition of Chirri & Chirra at a local library, which is how I learnt of Enchanted Lion Books, so I reached out to see if they were interested. They came back with a resounding yes and we’ve been working with them ever since.

A: Before we go any further, I notice “Shizuka Blaskowsky” is mentioned in the credits page.

M: Shizuka is my wife and very much a part of the Sato team. We discussed it and decided to list just my name for the English translation, but we wanted to make sure that she was credited as well, since we both love and worked on the series. She goes over everything I write and then we talk over every sentence, decide what best reflects the Japanese while flowing well in English, and work to find text that maintains the overall feel of the world. I translate and Shizuka edits, so while I am credited for translation, we’re certainly a team on this and every project.

A: It’s really heartening to hear about the strong family focus behind Sato, and I certainly agree that teamwork and collaboration play a big part in translation. Having seen Chirri & Chirra and then this book, something definitely clicked, so I’m not surprised Enchanted Lion took it up. Sato, though, isn’t a one-story 32-page picture book. Made up of seven separate episodes, I found each episode’s four spreads as imaginative, in a calming and dreamy sense, as the next. My younger daughter and I both like A Night of Stars, where Sato collects shooting stars to fill the observatory on a moonless night. I also like Forest Ice, especially the part about “sipping stories” in bed! Do you happen to have a favorite?

M: Picking one is really difficult. There are some that I like more than others, of course, and in the first book I love Walnuts and Forest Ice. I absolutely adore the creativity and the way that in only eight pages, some common, everyday action takes a fantastical turn to some dreamy place or event. I hope that it sinks into my son’s subconscious and inspires his imaginative play. If he mirrors a Sato story or the flow of the Sato world then I’ll have a huge grin on my face.

A: Speaking of mirrors, after reading both versions separately, putting the English and Japanese versions side by side felt like looking into a mirror. We thought we were reading it back to front, or even turning back time. The layout didn’t affect the translation, did it?

M: The layout was pretty straightforward. Very few things were changed, but as the Japanese text in columns reads right to left, sensible text placement for smooth reading flow is a little different than in English. It didn’t affect much, but we did swap locations of two images in Walnuts to match the text about Sato opening the walnut, to work better with the suspense of what he finds as people turn the page.

A: I thought the second and third pages of each vignette almost always involved a fantastical leap in thought! How did you go about translating the accompanying text?

M: I made the most literal translation of each sentence I could, then went back and tried to make it sound more interesting in English. I took each sentence and wrote down all the synonyms for each word or phrase in every sentence, then tried the combinations to see what I liked. As an example from A Window in the Sky, in the third and fourth pages, I played around with how “particularly”, “especially”, and “peculiarly” sounded with “clear” and “vivid”, like in “particularly vivid”. We went with “luminous” in the end, and while there was some talk about whether that word was too advanced for some readers, I like that more children’s books these days include larger words and so went with a more advanced word here. A counterexample might be in Forest of Ice. I started off with “melancholy” when describing the feelings of the blue ice, but we went with “sad” because it’s easier for kids to connect with.

A: It’s clear a lot was put into every word, and those choices also made Sato really enjoyable to read aloud, so I’m thinking that this was probably one aspect you particularly worked on. Were there any passages or sentiments that were challenging?

M: I really wanted the sentences to flow nicely and sound soothing when read aloud, plus I wanted to use alliteration and similar wordplay when possible (but not puns). Having a fun, imaginative English text that matched the fun, imaginative images was very important to me. I also tried to give everything in the book’s world as much agency as possible and to avoid expressions that conveyed that Sato was controlling the world or making things happen. Instead, I tried to show that he was interacting with the world and was generally rolling with the punches. The longer sentences were challenging, but thankfully Sato doesn’t contain many. Sometimes like when, in Forest Ice, Sato goes out for ice, the description of the ice is one long sentence. Japanese allows for much longer sentences and easier merging of clauses, so it was challenging trying to get all the information into the space without the sentence becoming too awkward. Claudia at Enchanted Lion was a big help with that, talking about how we wanted to phrase sentences so that we reflected the world Sato lives in using language that was natural and associable to children. All those conversations really helped hone the language and make enjoyable sentences that were true to the Japanese.

A: I certainly had fun joining Sato in interacting with his world, so I think you and your team have successfully conveyed the reading experience. As you said, Sato is the first of the series, and I already see a placeholder for the second one. Until then, thank you again for sharing!

The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out in The Linguist

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Andrew Wong, translator from Japanese of the picture book THE WORLD’S POOREST PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT, has an article about the translation process in the February/March 2021 issue of The Linguist. Free to read online—go to page 22!

SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2020 on Zoom

By Susan Jones, Kobe

The year 2020 has thrown all of our best laid plans awry. Thankfully, SCBWI Japan did not allow that to derail the organization of Translation Day, a biennial event eagerly anticipated by members old and new. The current circumstances meant that the event was held completely online via videoconference. In the capable hands of Translator Coordinator Avery Udagawa who moderated and organized the event along with Holly Thompson, Mariko Nagai, and Naomi Kojima, everything was executed like clockwork.

Unlike past Translation Days, participants enjoyed two half-days instead of one jam-packed day. While this may have been planned to accommodate the time zones of participants from around the world, the result was that participants had time to reflect and digest information between the two days. Holding the event online also meant that it was easy to record and share with participants for a time after the event, and share links and other information concurrently with the presentations and discussions. This format made the event more inclusive than ever with participants and speakers calling in from Japan, the US, Thailand, Australia, Singapore, and the UK.

Editor-publisher Beverly Horowitz

A Conversation with Beverly Horowitz

Day One began with a conversation with Beverly Horowitz, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. She shared important information for translators regarding the type of books she looks for when sourcing works in translation. In a nutshell she is looking for “a perfect book in any language.” That is to say, if the book is captivating in one language it will likely be captivating in translation provided it is translated well.

As for the process of new title acquisition, she uses a combination of visiting foreign rights fairs such as the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, accepting pitches from foreign rights agents, and connecting directly with publishers. She said that an important point for translators wanting to pitch a book to an agent or publisher is to first make sure that the English publication rights are available.

When talking about the difficulty of pitching works in translation, she mentioned that in the North American market “a vision of the broader world is not part of everyday life” and this limits the appeal of works in translation. There is certainly the impression that translated works might somehow be perceived as difficult or unrelatable—one reason why translator attribution on the cover may often be missing.

Emily Balistrieri on Translating Kiki’s Delivery Service

Emily Balistrieri was another featured speaker on day one. He gave us a fascinating view of his experience translating Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing winner Eiko Kadono’s Kiki’s Delivery Service (Delacorte Press, 2020).

Translator Emily Balistrieri

Balistrieri described some of the translation challenges this project presented such as the description of how Kiki came up with the name for her delivery service and how that description had to be changed slightly since the name is “Witch’s Delivery Service” in Japanese. And “The Infamous Phone Number” episode in which he made Kiki’s phone number 1-800-KIKI-CAN in the original translation, but had to change course when readers began actually calling that number and reaching—well, not Kiki’s Delivery Service, but an entirely different sort of service. (Moral of the story: localization is not always the best choice.) Translation of special effects, puns, and even poetry added to the hurdles presented and handily cleared in Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Translation Workshop

Capping off day one was a valuable opportunity for children’s book translators: Emily Balistrieri’s critique of participants’ translations of an excerpt from Eiko Kadono’s 『大どろぼうブラブラ氏』. From rookie mistakes to more nuanced observations, it was a great way to compare translations and discuss why some choices were better than others.

Click image to enlarge this spreadsheet Emily Balistrieri prepared for the workshop, which compares different translators’ renderings of a name, a phrase, and a food.

A Conversation with Arthur A. Levine

Day two started off with important insights from industry veteran Arthur A. Levine, founder of children’s book publisher Levine Querido. His own childhood peppered with translated books such as Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Mazel and Shlimazel: or The Milk of a Lioness and Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, he understands and has a deep love for good books no matter where their origin. But it took time to learn how to publish translations well. From finding the perfect source material via a network developed over thirty years, to working with translators and editors, it is a process he has honed throughout his successful career.

Editor-publisher Arthur A. Levine

Levine had some useful observations about how translations are currently received in the Anglophone market. Like Horowitz, he addressed the issue of translator credit. While it is standard to recognize the translator on the title page, it is still not common to find their name on the book cover. One reason, he says, is practical; it is more information for the reader to remember about the book. Another reason is intuitive; readers may pass over a translation for being “difficult” or not something they would choose for pleasure reading.

Finally, Levine shared his own philosophy regarding translated works: “The reader should have as close to the same experience of reading the text as the reader of the original.” Long experience allows him to discover the right translator for a project, and he encouraged translators to “let your passions be your power” when it comes to deciding what to translate and pitch to publishers and agents.

Andrew Wong: Translating The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out

Andrew Wong shared his experience of translating Yoshimi Kusaba’s adaptation of a speech by Uganda President José Mujica in The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out (Enchanted Lion, 2020) for the US market. This project held a significant challenge: the text of Mujica’s original speech was in Spanish, and it was adapted for the children’s book by Kusaba. In other words, Wong’s job was to translate a translation. Translators are well aware of “lost in translation” tropes, but Wong went the extra mile and consulted the original Spanish text to ensure that the book’s message and voice were portrayed clearly and accurately.

Click image to enlarge this slide by Andrew Wong, about the themes in José Musica’s iconic speech.

Wong also faced the problem of biases in the illustrations which were not apparent at first glance. Not only did the publisher successfully lobby the illustrator, Gaku Nakagawa, to make some illustrations more diverse, but that also had a positive impact on the original Japanese publication which began using the new illustrations as well. A translator’s influence on the original work in later editions is certainly not unheard of, and this is an encouraging example.

Panel: Translator Rights from a Range of Perspectives

The final session on day two was an in-the-trenches look at four different paths of Japanese to English translation in the children’s book market. Translators Andrew Wong (The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out, Enchanted Lion, 2020), Holly Thompson (Grow, Grow, Grow Tome Sweet Potatoes and The Puppets Are Back, Miyoshimachi Library, 2020), Avery Udagawa (Temple Alley Summer, Restless Books, 2021), and Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi (1945←2015: Reflections on Stolen Youth, Koro Color, 2020) each described a recent project from inception through publication. From translator’s rights to projects changing mid-course, their stories showed that there is certainly more than one route to successful children’s literature translation, and their work gives hope to those aspiring to follow their lead.

Clockwise from top left: Andrew Wong, Holly Thompson, Deborah Iwabuchi, Avery Fischer Udagawa

One of the highlights for many people who attend Translation Day is the opportunity to meet other members in “water cooler” moments. In a more organized version of that idea, time was allotted for a Speed Share session in which every participant introduced themselves and their current project in thirty seconds. It was a wonderful way to connect with every participant. Instead of repeating the same session on day two, a special Translator Opportunities session (for participants only) provided a wealth of information about who is currently accepting submissions and proposals—indispensable information for those pursuing publication of their work.

The online format of Translation Day hardly seemed to be a hindrance; in fact, it was directly instrumental in allowing participation from people around the world who otherwise might not have been able to attend. All credit goes to the organizers’ impeccable planning and tireless efforts in achieving a fruitful experience for all.

Announcing SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2020

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presents

SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2020

Two days of online presentations, workshopping, and conversation for published and pre-published translators of Japanese children’s and young adult literature into English.

Dates: Saturday, November 21, 2020, and Saturday, November 28, 2020

Time: Meeting Room Opens 8:30 a.m. Sessions 9 a.m.-1 p.m. JST

Place: Remote via Zoom

Fee: 3,500 yen for current SCBWI members; 5,000 yen for nonmembers. One fee covers both days.

Translations of text for workshop with Emily Balistrieri due by November 6, 2020. Fee payments due by November 18, 2020.

Registration: To reserve your place and receive event details, send an email to japan (at) scbwi.org

This event will be in English. All dates and times are Japan Standard Time (JST).

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SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2020: Schedule

DAY 1: SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2020

8:30 Meeting Room Opens

8:50 Opening Remarks

9:00-9:45 A Conversation with Editor-Publisher Beverly Horowitz

As Senior Vice President and Publisher of Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, Beverly Horowitz played a critical role in publishing Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono and Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki, both translated by Emily Balistrieri, with US releases in July 2020 and March 2021, respectively. She responds live to questions generated in advance, regarding what it takes to publish Japanese children’s books in English translation.

9:45-10:00 Break

10:00-10:15 Speed Share

Participants join a lightly structured “speed share” of their current projects.

10:15-11:00 Emily Balistrieri on Translating Kiki’s Delivery Service

As the latest translator of Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, 2018 winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing (“little Nobel”), Emily Balistrieri shares about the process and issues involved in bringing this iconic work to life in a US edition, now also finding its way to the UK.

11:00-11:15 Break

11:15-12:45 Emily Balistrieri: Translation Workshop

Emily Balistrieri critiques participants’ translations of selected excerpts from『大どろぼうブラブラ氏』, a title by Eiko Kadono as yet unpublished in English.

Participants interested in receiving feedback during this workshop must submit their translations of the workshop text by November 6, 2020. Names will be removed. Participants are not required to submit translations in order to join the workshop. 

12:45-1:00 Closing Remarks for Day 1

 

DAY 2: SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2020

8:30 Meeting Room Opens

8:50 Opening Remarks

9:00-9:45 A Conversation with Editor-Publisher Arthur A. Levine

Arthur A. Levine founded Levine Querido in 2019, after a 23-year tenure as the President and Publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. Translations he has published include two Moribito books by 2014 Andersen laureate Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano, which won a Batchelder Award and Honor, respectively. He responds to questions in a pre-recorded interview about what it takes to publish Japanese children’s books in English translation.

9:45-10:00 Break

10:00-10:15 Submission Opportunities

Participants learn about submission opportunities for those who join in this event, from interested publishers.

10:15-11:00 Andrew Wong on Translating The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out

As translator of The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out—an adaptation by Yoshimi Kusaba of a speech by José Mujica, illustrated by Gaku Nakagawa—Andrew Wong shares about the collaborative process of bringing this work to life in a US edition, published in August 2020 by Enchanted Lion.

11:00-11:15 Break

11:15-12:45 Panel: Translator Rights from a Range of Perspectives

Translators’ working conditions impact the flow of Japanese children’s and YA literature into English. What have translators with different lengths of careers, working for different kinds of publishers in different places, on different types of books, experienced as helpful conditions for translating well? How have they learned about their rights and negotiated for what they need? A panel discussion with translators Deborah Iwabuchi, Holly Thompson, Avery Fischer Udagawa, and Andrew Wong.

12:45-1:00 Closing Remarks for Day 2

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SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2020: Speakers and Panelists

Emily Balistrieri (he/him) is an American translator based in Tokyo. Emily translated the middle-grade fantasy novel Kiki’s Delivery Service by 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award-winner Eiko Kadono. Other works include The Night is Short, Walk on Girl by Tomihiko Morimi as well as two ongoing light novel series: Kugane Maruyama’s Overlord and Carlo Zen’s The Saga of Tanya the Evil. His translation of Shaw Kuzki’s Soul Lanterns, a middle-grade novel dealing with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, will be released in March. Follow Emily on Twitter: @tiger

Avery Fischer Udagawa (she/her) serves as International and Japan Translator Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Her translations from Japanese to English include J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani, “Festival Time” by Ippei Mogami in The Best Asian Short Stories 2018, and “Firstclaw” by Sachiko Kashiwaba at Words Without Borders. Her reviews of children’s literature in translation appeared throughout the inaugural year of the #WorldKidLit Wednesday column, Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, 2019-2020. @Avery Udagawa

Beverly Horowitz (she/her) is SVP & Publisher of Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Horowitz began her career in Editorial, but to learn all aspects of the publishing business, she held positions as Publicity/Promotions Director, and as Academic Marketing and School & Library Marketing Director in various publishing houses. After gathering this experience early in her career, she returned to her passion for editorial work at Delacorte Press/RHCB. In addition to the administrative aspects of her job, Horowitz has never stopped being an editor. Authors she works with include Louis Sachar, E. Lockhart, Judy Blume, Onjali Q. Raúf, Bryan Stevenson, Rob Buyea, Abdi Nor Iftin, Ruby Bridges, Adeline Yen Mah, as well as debut authors. She also has acquired many novels for translation. Throughout her career, Beverly has been an advocate of First Amendment rights and has fought against censorship.

Deborah (Stuhr) Iwabuchi (she/her) was born and mostly raised in California before moving to Japan right after graduation from University of the Pacific, Callison College. After ten year teaching in Maebashi, she moved into translation where she has happily been ever since. Translations of books for young people include The Sleeping Dragon by Miyuki Miyabe, Rudolf and Ippai Attena by Saito Hiroshi, Love From the Depths by Tomihiro Hoshino, Reflections on Stolen Youth: 1945←2015 compiled by Naomi Kitagawa and Motomi Murata, and an as yet unpublished biography of Ruth Gannett (author of the Elmer books) by Akie Maezawa. minamimuki.com

Arthur A. Levine (he/him) founded Levine Querido in April 2019, after a 23-year tenure as the President and Publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. He founded Arthur A. Levine Books in 1996, coming over from Knopf Books for Young Readers where he had been Editor in Chief. His determination to bring a diverse selection of “The Best of the World’s Literature for Young People” to American readers was the guiding principle in all of AALB’s publishing since its beginnings, and continues to be the guiding light at Levine Querido. This mission resulted in the introduction to North American audiences of the work of great writers such as J. K. Rowling, Markus Zusak, Nahoko Uehashi, Daniella Carmi, Luis Sepúlveda, and Jaclyn Moriarty. Arthur sees this search for great writers from around the world as a continuum with Levine Querido’s search for diverse, powerful, unique voices and visions from the multitude of cultures closer to home. In addition to overseeing the company, Arthur edits between eight and ten books annually.

Holly Thompson (she/her) is author of the novel Ash; three verse novels for young people: Falling into the Dragon’s MouthThe Language Inside, and Orchards—winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature; and picture books One Wave at a TimeTwilight Chant and The Wakame Gatherers. Picture book translator and editor of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories, a collection of 36 Japan-related short stories including ten in translation, she also writes for magazines on Japan topics. Graduate of the NYU Creative Writing Program, she serves as Co-Regional Advisor of SCBWI Japan, and teaches creative writing at Yokohama City University, UC Berkeley Extension, and Grub Street in Boston. www.hatbooks.com

Andrew Wong (he/him) is a Singaporean Chinese living in Tokyo. Weaned on a fare of comics, mystery and adventure stories mixed with kungfu dramas and movies, a stint in Taiwan kindled his interest in Japanese pop culture and language. After studying the language in Scotland and Tokyo, living in Japan with children opened his eyes to the world of Japanese works for children. A translator by trade, he keeps a blog to share stories and contributes to the SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog. Translator of The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out (2020). talesfrom2citiesormore.com

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#WorldKidLitMonth Interview: Andrew Wong on The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Andrew Wong’s translation of the picture book The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out (from a Japanese edition by Yoshimi Kusaba, illustrated by Gaku Nakagawa) has just been published ★ in English by Enchanted Lion Books. Here, I interview Andrew about the story behind the translation.

Andrew Wong holds his translation The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out (center), the Japanese original (left), and a book about José Mujica, Uruguay’s 40th president.

Deborah: Hi, Andrew. Congratulations on your translation of The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out! I ordered the book and fell in love with it instantly. I’ve got lots of questions to ask you. First of all, how did you get involved with this project?

Andrew: Hooray, another reader! Well, my story begins at a bookstore in Tokyo one day. The cover struck me, so I picked it up and read it. I actually didn’t buy it the first time, but I was really drawn to the illustrations—the opening montage—and the very apparent messages. The initial montage works with a preface to introduce Mujica’s speech at the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit and build up his personality, particularly his generous, frugal ways, which make him so well-loved by many Uruguayans. Those first few pages set readers up to interpret his speech, expecting to hear something “new” from him.

Deborah: That opening sequence drew me in, too, but of course I was looking at your English version. (Allow me to digress…) I had to know what the Japanese version was, so I got a copy right away. In both versions, there’s a great humor in the way Mujica’s wife sends her husband off to Rio for the +20 Summit. In the Japanese, she gives him the affectionate but unvarying greeting you’d give anyone going off to work for the day and then tacks on a request in a lovely Japanese way that doesn’t translate well. “Good-bye dear. Please feed the chickens.” Andrew, you solved that neatly with “Stay safe and feed the chickens on your way out! (Have a good trip, but don’t expect me to do your chores, Mr. President).” Okay, sorry I interrupted your story! Please continue.

Andrew: About that greeting, I left it as what it means to me, which is quite literal. The fact that Mr. President feeds the chickens on his farm just builds on his character—a person who seeks to live like everyone else. Anyway, I read the book again. And again. And realized how much I wanted to share this. That started my search for how to get the book translated into English, which led me to the SCBWI Japan Translation listserv. Then, at SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016, I met a literary agent from Japan UNI Agency, and Japan UNI hooked me up with Enchanted Lion. A lot of it was chance. (And I think Trump played a part.)

Deborah: 2016 was your first SCBWI Translation event, and there you connected with someone who found a publisher. That was serendipitous! So often connecting with the right people seems like good luck—and some of it probably is—but behind that is usually hard work and good planning. How did you go about the translation?

Andrew: I’m not sure if that was my first event, but it was quite early in my interactions with SCBWI. Anyway, translating the short speech didn’t take very long, and I usually start with a very literal draft. But before revising, I needed more perspective, and I found it in the opening pages of the book. After some forensic work, I found out that Mujica spoke around 8 p.m. in June at the Summit where the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura had also performed (another picture book!). Anyway, that helped to eventually ground the English in environmental and social issues, which were rooted in capitalist greed, competition, and consumerism. Besides reading more on Mujica to understand his ideas better, my search for an English publisher also led me to a Traditional Chinese version (I read and speak Chinese), which had backmatter from reviewers on being content with what you have.

Deborah: I’d like to hear about the difference with the Chinese version. Was it just the backmatter or was the book itself changed at all?

Andrew: The backmatter made the difference. My initial impressions were really close to the Chinese interpretation, perhaps stemming from my Chinese Singaporean roots. So when the editors at Enchanted Lion and I dwelled on how the text could be affected by cultural perspectives, we dug deeper into the many arguments in the speech. A lot had been packed into a speech that lasted just 10 minutes. It touched on many difficult concepts—capitalism, competition, consumerism, economic growth, desire, poverty, happiness—so we realized there was room left to interpretation. To top it off, it drew on philosophy! Along the way, we also referred to the original Spanish, and it guided how we wanted to convey the speech—with clarity and passion.

Deborah (eyes popping out a little bit): So, going back to Mujica’s original speech in Spanish helped iron out some important nuances—after working with the Japanese and Chinese versions of the book.

Andrew: I did share the perspective from the two versions (as far as I know, there’s a Korean one too!), and initially I stuck close to the Japanese because we thought it was going to be straightforward. But I didn’t succeed in making polite Japanese sound quite as passionate. So we worked on the tone based on the original Spanish. As I said, there were many ideas in the speech, so we took a long, deep look because we didn’t want to leave things ambiguous. The editors and I kept a conversation going, exchanging emails in spurts over a few months, and eventually grounded the book in environmental and social issues. I believe that gave us a way to tie things together and wrap it all up nicely for everyone. It was a long and rewarding collaborative thought process, and I am grateful to everyone who was involved in shaping the English into what it is, because I certainly couldn’t have done it alone.

Deborah: No matter how long I translate, it’s always a surprise to find out how much effort and thought is required to change a book—one that seems quite straightforward—from one language to another. Did you find it necessary to simplify anything so that children could understand it? I see the target age is 8 to 12.

Andrew: Even though I don’t understand Spanish, I think the Japanese picture book did the hard work of making the difficult concepts accessible to children. Also, don’t you think Nakagawa’s illustrations work so well with the text to build a compelling argument? They also add perspective, for example, about how competition is about outdoing each other (not building each other up); how economic “growth” is driven by a fear of recession, leaving a pile of trash while a wise man stands above; and the importance of happiness for the family, livestock and all. I can go on, because there is so much to talk about in each and every spread. (My favorite is the baby in the cosmos!)

Deborah: I absolutely agree with you. I love the illustrations. I can see how they would help children understand what Mujica is saying! Now, your mention of the sweet baby in the cosmos brings me to a question I’ve got to ask. When I picked up your English translation of the book, I flipped through and was so impressed with the glorious diversity the illustrations represented. And then I got the Japanese version, and my jaw fell. To mention just a few of the differences, in the Japanese version, all the drivers in the smoggy traffic jam were men in Sikh turbans, the sweatshop workers were all brown, and the happy family of farmers and the sweet baby in the cosmos were all white! What was your role in the fortunate shift to inclusion in the English version?

Andrew: To be honest, I didn’t see the problem initially, but one day Enchanted Lion contacted me saying the Indian people caught in traffic were all unhappy Sikh men. And then the rest became easy to spot. I think the time we took to keep talking also gave us the chance to see and correct the problem, especially for a diverse readership. That experience has made me read more consciously, but I still remind myself to be constantly vigilant about stereotypes and my own biases because I don’t think I realize fast enough when they surface. (I’d be grateful to hear anyone point them out.) By the way, I’m delighted at the way the happy family at the end sits with the inclusive closing!

Deborah: The illustration of the diverse family ended the book for me on a very satisfying note. I was exhilarated and I could feel the dedication to Mujica’s words that everyone involved in making the book must have had. Any other bumps in the road you’d like to share?

Andrew: Well, to start, this was a translation of a translation. So when I was alerted to an existing English translation of the original speech online, I was really thankful, but it also got me worried. Once we were certain that the Japanese we were working from was a distinct work—an adaptation of the speech for children—the existence of another English translation became a non-issue. Enchanted Lion also provided input from the original speech in Spanish, which obviously helped in the revisions. The other huge bump was of course the ongoing pandemic, which has also impacted publishing. The launch date got pushed back a few times, so I’m glad it’s finally out. Hopefully more and more people get to read it and talk about the issues in the book, and, of course, Uruguay’s well-loved former President. It was some journey, and it continues, so I’d be happy to hear from readers!

Deborah: Thanks so much for taking the time to share all of this, Andrew. This is a gem of a book in so many ways, and learning about the background of the English version has been a fascinating lesson in how much goes into creating a translation.

The Japanese version of The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out is Sekai de ichiban mazushii daitoryo no supiichi, Choubunsha Publishing (2014). 

Chirri and Chirra at Words Without Borders

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

A Japanese children’s picture book in translation has made the Words Without Borders 2019 holiday gift list. Kaya Doi’s Chirri and Chirra, Underground, translated by David Boyd for Enchanted Lion Books, sees the two girls get on their bicycles again, this time in pursuit of whoever made a hole in their cellar wall!

The other Japanese title alongside Doi’s color-pencil adventure is Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, translated by Stephen Snyder for Pantheon, under sci-fi and speculative fiction. See the other titles that made the list and treat yourself to some delectable interviews and excerpts!