Book Island publishes picture books that appeal to me. These books have qualities that some people might classify as “European” - though you shouldn’t let the E word scare you. They are beautifully illustrated and able to tell stories that are subtle and often deal with complex emotional issues. I’m thinking in particular of their title The Lion and the Bird (written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Sarah Ardizzone). The book indulges in such gorgeously quiet moments, I can almost hear the wind whistling over the landscape. Book Island won the 2016 Bologna Prize for Best Children's Publisher of Oceania, and I’m so pleased that founder Greet Pauwelijn made time to answer a few questions from me.
Q: You work with books in translation. Are there some books which, even though you adore them, just can’t translate to another language? Are there some books which are too culturally specific, and can’t “translate” across borders?
GREET: Certainly, we’ve got some foreign children's books on our shelves here that we just can’t translate. I’m immediately thinking of this incredibly funny and positive Polish chapter book about a young, blind girl. The setting and the humour is so Polish that we would never be able to translate that into English without ruining it.
There are also a lot of beautiful and meaningful picture books that we can’t publish in English because they address topics that are taboo for readers in the UK, USA, New Zealand and Australia. We have to be extremely cautious with books about death, bereavement, nudity, violence, …
Q: How important is it to find the right translator for a particular book? Is it comparable to hiring the most suitable illustrator for a text? What qualities have you noticed that makes translators good at their jobs, other than language proficiency?
GREET: I wouldn’t use that comparison. We tend to work with experienced translators who’ve worked with a wide variety of texts. You might think that translating picture books is easier than translating a novel, but nothing is less true. Picture books have very little text, which makes every single word count. When translating a picture book the translator sometimes has to let go of the original text to make sure there’s a perfect match between the sentences and the illustrations. Also, the text has to flow well when read out aloud. You have to be quite experienced to get it right. Everyone involved in the translation process – the translator, the editor and the publisher– is very fussy. You have no idea how many e-mails are being exchanged before we all agree on the final version. I love this part of my job.
Q: Is there a book from your own childhood that you always felt you had to share with your own children? If so, what was it? What language do they read it in?
GREET: As a child I was an avid reader and always looked out for Lemniscaat titles. Unfortunately my kids only read in English. Thanks to Laura Watkinson and David Colmer I can now share books by Tonke Dragt and Annie M.G. Schmidt with them. My oldest son is so crazy about The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood that he’s been begging me to write an e-mail to Tonke Dragt and ask her to write a sequel to the series:-) I’m keeping it a secret to him that Pushkin Press will be releasing a new Tonke Dragt translation by Laura Watkinson at the end of this year.
Q: I like the name of your publishing house, Book Island, and you say the name came from the feeling that comes from reading a book and retreating into your own isolated space. You’ve recently moved from one island nation (NZ) to another (Bristol, UK). Can you name a good book about islands, or about the islands you’ve inhabited?
GREET: I’ve always had a passion for islands and maps, and absolutely adore Atlas of Remote Islands, a stunning book by German illustrator Judith Schalansky.
Greet, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview with me for the Children's Book Academy. You can find out more about Book Island: by visiting their website here: http://www.bookisland.co.nz/en
Rachelle Meyer was born in the state of Texas and spent most of her childhood with her nose in a book. She graduated with a degree in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin and then spent eight years in New York City working as a graphic artist and designer. She has since moved to Europe and launched a successful career as an illustrator, specializing in children's books and editorial interpretations.You can see some of her wonderful work right here: http://www.rachellemeyer.com/