Discover a world of stories

16th December 2005 at 00:00
Myra Barrs welcomes a guide to literature of other countries available in English

Outside In: children's books in translation By Deborah Hallford and Edgardo Zaghini With a foreword by Philip Pullman Milet Publishing pound;6.99

Outside In is a bold beginning in a long-term uphill job: that of raising the profile of children's books in translation. It's at once an exemplary booklist and resource guide, a manifesto and a challenge to British children's publishers. Only 1 per cent of British children's books are now translations.

It seems that a disturbing paradox is operating: the status of English as a world language is actually contriving to isolate children in the UK from the literature of other countries. Publishers, as this guide makes plain, are wary of books which need translation. Those books that do get translated can be slow to sell: marketing budgets tend to be reserved for well-known authors, and those who buy the books don't have access to enough information to be aware of what they're missing.

Now there's no excuse; this guide provides a comprehensive map of the territory. As Deborah Hallford points out in her Afterword, this is not the same as a world map because hardly any children's books from outside Europe are translated into English: the guide contains only a handful of non-European titles.

At the core of the publication are thoughtful reviews of translated books for children of all ages, from under five to 14-plus. The reviews combine a readable style with authoritative information about books, authors, and translators. But the editors have crammed in extra treats, including articles by Philip Pullman (see TES, September 23 for his foreword), critic Nicholas Tucker, Danish author Lene Kaaberbol and others committed to widening the range of literature available to children. There are wonderful insights into the translating process when Sarah Adams, translator of Daniel Pennac's Eye of the Wolf, writes about turning backslang from the French banlieues into Brixton street talk for the English version of Golem, a series of action stories published by Walker Books.

Outside In deserves to be a permanent feature of the children's literature scene. Meanwhile, every school would find this book a real help in meeting the English national curriculum requirement to study "texts from a variety of cultures and traditions".

Myra Barrs worked with the English team at QCA on Reading Differences, a project designed to introduce children to world literature

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