Editing Internet Texts/Translation of children's literature

Introduction edit

This is a research and learning project concerned with translation of children's literature. It consists of three parts. The first one is a brief discussion on children's literature in general. The second one focuses on translation of children's literature as a field of study. And the last part is an analysis of various aspects of translation of books for young readers. The examples that are provided come mainly from texts originally written in English and their Polish translations. As far as the learning component is concerned, the aim of this project is to provide students with an insight into children's literature translation studies and make them realise the broad scope of this field. The target readers of this project are students specialising in translation studies. Since there might be used some terminology connected with translation studies and literature, the readers of this project need to have some background knowledge of these issues.

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny
The Lion and the Unicorn

An overview of children's literature edit

Definition edit

The most straightforward definition of children's literature is that it is “literature written and generally considered to be intended or adequate for children” [1]. However, when analysing this definition, it turns out that it is not so obvious, as there are different perceptions childhood. The borders between children and adults are not clear-cut.

The children's room / The Nursery

The concept of childhood edit

It is really difficult to establish the exact age borders for "children." Nowadays, teenagers are pushed by society to become mature as quickly as possible. Thus, they read not only children's literature, but also books intended for adults. On the other hand, many adults are still considered to be children. That is why they willingly reach for literature for younger readers [2].

Characteristics edit

Children's literature may be characterised as:

“literature marketed to or written for children, having children as protagonists, devoid of adult themes, appropriate for children, dealing with themes of growing up, coming to age and maturation, relatively short, written in a simple language, plot-oriented with more dialogue and events, fewer descriptions and ruminations, illustrated, didactic, educational or attempting at educating children in societal and behavioural issues: otherwise, containing tales of fantasy and adventure, and having a happy ending, in which good triumphs over evil” [1].

Classification according to genre edit

The following table presents different genres in children's literature with their brief descriptions[3]

Genre Characteristics
Picture books Story presented through combination of text and illustration.
Poetry Condensed language and imagery. Rhythmic expression of thoughts.
Folklore Traditional stories, myths, legends, nursery rhymes, and songs from the past. Stories passed down orally from generation to generation.
Fantasy Stories set in unreal places, describing characters that could not exist.
Realistic Fiction Real setting and characters.
Historical Fiction Stories set in the past.
Biography Written on the basis of a person's life.
Nonfiction Informational books explaining difficult topics.

Origins edit

Image from A Little Pretty Pocket-book

Children's literature developed by the end of the 18th century. At first, there were no separate books for children but fables, fairy stories, chivalric romances, short pamphlet tales and ballads were published both for children and adults.

The first books designed especially for children were written mainly in an instructional character.

Image from A Little Pretty Pocket-book

There was a breakthrough in the middle of the 18th century, caused by the publication of books whose aim was to provide children with entertainment and delight. These were Description of Three Hundred Animals by Thomas Boreman and Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book by Mary Cooper.

However, the most appreciated was the book written by John Newbery titled A Little Pretty Pocket-Book Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly. Newbery managed to combine educational aspect with amusement. He is perceived as the father of children's literature, because he proved that publishing books for young readers can also be a commercial success.

In the second half of the 18th century children's literature rapidly developed. There were many factors that contributed to this fact, such as "the growth of a sizeable middle class, technical developments in book production, the influence of new educational theories, and changing attitudes to childhood." [4]

Important organisations edit

The fact that children’s literature evolved into a respected discipline and now is recognised worldwide is emphasised by the existence of many important organisations. Among them there are:

The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), which was founded in 1953 in Zurich. Its main purpose is to promote children’s literature. The best writers who contribute to this field of study receive the most prestigious award, that is the Hans Christian Andersen Award[5].

The International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL), founded in 1970. The aim of this organisation is to support and encourage research in children’s literature. It also enables scholars from different countries to co-operate and share information related to this field of study[6].

An introduction into children's literature translation studies edit

In order to refer to an academic research concentrated on translation of children's literature, the term Children's Literature Translation Studies (CLTS) is used.

The translation of children's literature as a field of study evolved fairly recently. The first important publication on this topic was presented by Klingberg at the meeting of International Research Society for Children's literature in 1976. He presented the problems related to translation of children's literature and proposed some strategies of dealing with them. He also pointed out that translating for children is of special character and it requires taking into account the abilities of its recipients. As far as changes of the original text are concerned, he claimed that whenever it is possible, they should be avoided. Finally, he emphasised that translation of children's literature is equally important to translation for adults[1].

Similar approach presented Zohar Shavit. She also argued for treating children's literature with the same respect as literature for adults. Thus, she called into question using separate methods of translation in these two types of literature.[7].

Another approach in CLTS was presented by Riitta Oittinen. She proposed child-centred theory of translation, stating that it is a child that translators should concentrate on while rendering a text. She also coined the term “translating for children,” on the basis of which the significant role of the addressee was emphasised[1].

Various aspects of translation for children edit

Didacticism and censorship edit

Since it is widely claimed that one of the functions of children's literature is to teach young readers and provide them with models of good behaviour, translators tend to take this didactic aspect into account. Consequently, some significant changes may be noticed in their translations. Apart from adding information to enable children to become familiar with new things, translators also tend to “purify” texts. This term was first used by Klingberg[8]. He introduced this concept to describe translators' practices which aim at adjusting the text in such a way as to make it more appropriate for the moral welfare of children. Purification entails also censorship. So violence or sexual references, that are present in the original text, are removed as deemed harmful for the young reader. On the other hand, some scholars propose an opposite approach. Pieciul-Karmińska[9] states that cruelty that is presented in some fairy tales is very important for children and it should not be removed. She claims that even if by some people it is perceived as too frightening for young readers, it may be also a good lesson of how the world functions. Children are taught that when people behave in an inappropriate way or commit crime, they should be punished. Even if it requires cruelty, children feel safer, because they see that there are fundamental rules, which must be observed and evil is always punished.

Cinderella by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm edit

Dean & Son Cinderella

Grimm Brothers included many cruel elements in their fairy tales. One of them is that of the toe and heel mutilation of the two Cinderella's sisters. When they try the golden shoe on, which was lost by the beautiful, mysterious girl, and it turns out that it does not fit, their mother comes up with a terrible idea. She advises them to cut off their heels and toes. She wants one of her daughters to be the queen at all costs.

The source text With her mother standing by, the older one took the shoe into her bedroom to try it on. She could not get her big toe into it, for the shoe was too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife and said, "Cut off your toe. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot."

The girl cut off her toe, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince. He took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her. However, they had to ride past the grave, and there, on the hazel tree, sat the two pigeons, crying out: Rook di goo, rook di goo! There's blood in the shoe. The shoe is too tight, This bride is not right! Then he looked at her foot and saw how the blood was running from it. He turned his horse around and took the false bride home again, saying that she was not the right one, and that the other sister should try on the shoe. She went into her bedroom, and got her toes into the shoe all right, but her heel was too large. Then her mother gave her a knife, and said, "Cut a piece off your heel. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot." The girl cut a piece off her heel, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince. He took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her. When they passed the hazel tree, the two pigeons were sitting in it, and they cried out: Rook di goo, rook di goo! There's blood in the shoe. The shoe is too tight, This bride is not right! He looked down at her foot and saw how the blood was running out of her shoe, and how it had stained her white stocking all red. Then he turned his horse around and took the false bride home again. "This is not the right one, either," he said. "Don't you have another daughter?"[10]

Translation by Bolesław Londyński Niestety, pantofelek nie pasował na żadną nóżkę okolicznych dziewic.

Macocha Kopciuszka starała się, o ile możności, wciągnąć pantofelek na nogi swoich kochanych córeczek, ale było to niepodobieństwem.[11]

Although this fragment is really cruel and frightening, it is essential for children, because even though disgusting and harmful, it has a pedagogic value. It teaches children that truth cannot be hidden and evil will always be punished. Apart from the fact that the bad sisters cannot become the queen, they are also mutiliated. Consequently, they are doubly punished.

However, in the Polish translation by Bolesław Londyński the cruel fragments are omitted. Londyński decides to purify his translation and omit a large fragment of the story. On the one hand, he saves the young readers from fear and disgust. On the other hand, his omission deprives children of a very important lesson, namely you cannot achieve your goals at all costs.

Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm edit

Little Red Riding Hood by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1911

Another example of didacticism is mentioned by Pieciul-Karmińska[9].

The source text One day her mother said to her: 'Come, Little Red Riding Hood, here is a piece of cake and a bottle of wine; take them to your grandmother, she is ill and weak, and they will do her good. Set out before it gets hot, and when you are going, walk nicely and quietly and do not run off the path, or you may fall and break the bottle, and then your grandmother will get nothing; and when you go into her room, don't forget to say, "Good morning", and don't peep into every corner before you do it.' 'I will take great care,' said Little Red Riding Hood to her mother, and gave her hand on it.[12]
Translation by Marceli Tarnowski — Oto masz, dziecko, w koszyku placek i flaszkę wina, zanieś to babci, która jest

chora i słaba, i ucieszy się bardzo tym podarunkiem. Idź zaraz, póki nie ma wielkiego upału, a idąc nie biegaj i nie zbaczaj z drogi, bo mogłabyś upaść i stłuc butelkę. Kiedy zaś wejdziesz do pokoju, nie zapomnij powiedzieć babci „dzień dobry” i nie rozglądaj się wpierw po wszystkich kątach. —Zrobię wszystko, jak każesz—przyrzekł Czerwony Kapturek mamusi.[13]

She points out that Little Red Riding Hood in the original text is presented as if she was equal to an adult. She answers to her mother as an independent partner. Whereas in his translation, Marceli Tarnowski decides to take into account the didactic aspect of fairy tales and presents the child as obedient and subordinate to her mother. The girl answers that she will do what her mother will tell her to do. It underlines that children should respect their parents and follow their orders.

Adaptation edit

Adaptation occurs when translators decide that the original text is too difficult for children and they do not have enough knowledge to understand it. Klingberg[8] points out two types of adaptation, namely “cultural context adaptation” and “localisation.” The former is an adaptation of some features that are specific to a certain culture with the aim of rendering the text easier for children to comprehend. The latter is changing names and all the unfamiliar concepts into local ones.

Lathey[8] mentions also an additional strategy of translating culturally specific elements. She proposes introducing footnotes in which it is possible to explain all the unfamiliar concepts. However, she points out that it is not a successful method, because it disrupts the flow of the narrative and children get distracted.

All in all, scholars' opinions on adaptation are not clear-cut. On the one hand, some of them claim that adaptation should be reduced to a minimum, because it is the source text that is the most significant. This argument may be supported by the fact that localisation prevents children from getting to know new cultures and becoming familiar with the foreign. Furthermore, new concepts raise children's curiosity. On the other hand, some scholars are in favour of adaptation, because they state that if a text is full of unfamiliar concepts, children may feel alienated and discouraged from reading it at all.

The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter edit

Illustration from The Tale of Two Bad Mice

One of the examples of localisation of names may be Małgorzata Musierowicz's translation of The Tale of Two Bad Mice. There are two dolls Lucinda and Jane in the original text. Musierowicz decides to localise them and renders them as Lucynda and Janka. By domestication, the dolls become more familiar to Polish children. However, young readers are deprived of the chance to get to know foreign names.

Apart from the dolls there are also two mice presented in the story: Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca. Musierowicz renders them as Wścibek and Gryzikruszka. Applying the strategy of domestication enables children to ascribe certain features of character to the mice. If their names remained in the original form, they would not mean anything to the young readers. Additionally, a humorous effect is introduced. The mice's names are really creative. The recipients of this translation would not expect to hear such names in a real life.[14]

The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss edit

The Cat in the Hat
The Cat in the Hat
Hillary Rodham Clinton

Another example of an adaptation may be Stanisław Barańczak's translation of The Cat in the Hat.

The source text

'I will pick up the hook.
you will see something new.
two things. and I call them
Thing One and Thing Two.
these Things will not bite you.
they want to have fun.'
then, out of the box
came Thing Two and Thing One!

Translation by Stanisław Barańczak

Zaraz odsunę hak!
Śmiech was z nudy uleczy:
Przekonacie się, jak
Śmieszne są te dwie Rzeczy!
Śmieszna Rzecz Numer Jeden,
Śmieszna Rzecz Numer Dwa!
Zna je Paryż i Wiedeń,
Szwecja i USA!
Żadna z nich nie ugryzie,
Nie ma się czego bać;
Zatrzaśnięta w walizie
lub tonąca w Tamizie,
Gdy z opresji wylizie,
Będzie się tylko śmiać!”
Podniósł nareszcie wieko
i z głębi skrzyni
W rekordowym tempie wypadły
Numer Jeden i Dwa!


The original text was written with the intention of teaching children to read. Thus, it consists of plain language. The limited and easy vocabulary helps children to acquire some basic knowledge. However, Barańczak adapts this story and his rendition seems to be more appropriate for older children who already have some basic knowledge and want to extend it. He introduces more sophisticated vocabulary and some terms that enable children to acquire new information.

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain edit

The Prince and the Pauper

As far as the introduction of footnotes is concerned, I would like to focus on Magdalena Machay's translation of The Prince and the Pauper. She tends to add footnotes in order to explain some terms. Translating the passage about Tom's place of living, she adds information about the Tower Bridge: “Most Londyński – do 1750 r. jedyny most na Tamizie.”[17] It is a significant piece of information because it turns out that this bridge was actually the only possible way of escape for Tom. As a result, even though this footnote may disrupt the flow of the narrative, it is very helpful for the reader.

However, Machay's strategy of introducing footnotes is not always successful. When the term “protector” appears in the original text, she tries to explain it in the footnote in the following way: “lord protector (Anglii) – urząd angielski odpowiadający stanowisku regenta; uprawniona osoba, sprawująca władzę w imieniu monarchy, gdy ten, np. z powodu małoletności, nie może wykonywać swoich obowiązków.”[17]

This footnote is not really helpful for the child recipient, as the introduced concepts, such as “regent” are not understandable for children. Thus, it only distracts them from reading.

Stylistic issues edit

Despite the common perception, style plays a significant role in CLTS. As Lathey points out, being a children's literature author requires “the ability to express complex ideas with clarity and simplicity,” because children may find it difficult to understand sophisticated constructions[8].

However, it does not mean that translators' task is to simplify syntax and render it in a monotonous way. On the contrary, they need to translate a text so that it includes “variation in phrasing and rhythm”[8]. It is especially necessary when reading aloud of a children's book is taken into account. The term “speakability,” coined by Puurtinen[7] may be applicable here. It requires children's literature to be appropriate for reading aloud and performing. The concept of “performance” was suggested by Oittinen and it requires literature for young readers to include “varied intonation, rhythm, sound effects, and pauses for interaction with the child listener.” It goes without saying that all of these elements are a great challenge for a translator, who needs “a linguistic creativity” to render them[8].

Finally, when discussing stylistic issues in translation of children's literature, spoken language should be taken into consideration. Dialogues are really difficult to translate as they have a very important function. They contribute to the description of characters and the development of the plot. They also enrich lengthy passages of narration.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett edit

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The relevance of stylistic issues may be noticed in The Secret Garden. One of its main characters, Dickon, speaks with a Yorkshire accent. His language is an element of his identity. It emphasises his origins and distinct personality. Dialect is also an important issue in The Secret Garden because it reflects other characters' metamorphoses. When Mary undergoes a change of character, she tries to speak like Dickon. Her language is idiosyncratic and thus, it is extremely difficult to translate.

The source text “It's th' wind from th' moor,” said Mary. “It comes o'sittin' on th' grass under a tree wi' Dickon an' wi' Captain an' Soot an' Nut an' Shell. It's th' spring-time an' out o' doors an' sunshine as smells so graidely.”

She said it as broadly as she could, and you do not know how braodly Yorkshie sounds until you have heard someone speak it.[18]

Translation by Zbigniew Batko “To zapach wiatru znad wrzosowisk – powiedziała Mary. - A pachnę, bo siedziałam na trawie pod drzewem z Dickiem, Kapitanem, Kopciem, Orzeszkiem i Łupinką. To wiosna na dworze i ogród nagrzany słońcem pachną tak pięknie.

Powiedziała to z najbardziej yorkshirskim akcentem, na jaki umiała się zdobyć, a każdy kto kiedykolwiek słyszał taką mowę, wie, jak dziwnie brzmi ona w uszach nie obeznanych z nią ludzi.”[19]

This passage illustrates Mary's idiosyncratic speech and emphasises her features of character. Her change in the way of speaking mirrors her change of character.

Batko's translation does not illustrate Mary's attempt to imitate Dickon's accent. This rendition may even confuse young readers, because it is mentioned in the text that she speaks in a disctinct way, but it is not marked in any way. Mary's metamorphosis is not reflected by her language.

Double audience edit

Multiple addressee is also an important aspect in translation studies. The problem is that books may be intended for both children and adults. Consequently, translators have to face the challenge of retaining double recipients. It is a very difficult task. Unfortunately, most of the translations are not successful in retaining it and they are directed at only one age group.

Fairy tales by the Grimm brothers edit

Pieciul-Karmińska[9] emphasises that the intended addressee of the Grimm brothers' fairy tales were both children and adults. She enumerates the values of the fairy tales for each of these age groups. Children are taught how the real world functions. It is especially relevant for their emotional development. Whereas adults may become familiar with life of folk people in the past. Older readers appreciate the presentation of attitudes of German people at the beginning of the 19th century.

Gulliver's Travels

Consequently, it is essential to be faithful to the original text and avoid censorship which may lead to the loss of multifaceted nature of the Grimm brothers' fairy tales.

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift edit

On the one hand, Gulliver's Travels may be seen as a book for children. It describes Gulliver's numerous voyages into extraordinary places. Children may admire his adventures among Lilliputians and giants, which may improve their imagination and be a source of entertainment. However, an in-depth analysis of this book enables readers to notice that it is also a satire of English society, which can be understood only by adults. Thus, it turns out that Gulliver's Travels has multifaceted nature, which makes it even more challenging task for translators.

Educational component edit

The first part - Quiz


Children's literature includes the following genres:



IBBY is the abbreviation for:



When did children's literature develop?



Who is the author of child-centred theory of translation?

The second part

1. Find other examples of translations of children's literature where didacticism and censorship can be noticed. Please analyse them. What are the differences between the source text and the translation?

2. Are there any other books whose intended readers are both children and adults? Please analyse their translations? Is double audience retained there?

See also edit

1. Children's Literature

2. International Research Society for Children's literature

3. Translation of Children's Literature

References edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Fornalczyk, Anna. Danuta. Translating anthroponyms as exemplified by selected works of English children's literature in their Polish versions. 2010. Łódź - Warszawa:SWSPiZ.
  2. https://www.britannica.com/art/childrens-literature
  3. http://libguides.ashland.edu/childlitgen
  4. https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-origins-of-childrens-literature
  5. http://www.ibby.org/
  6. http://www.irscl.com/index.html
  7. 7.0 7.1 Borodo, Michał. "Children's literature tranlsation studies? - Zarys badań nad literaturą dziecięcą w przekładzie." Przekładaniec, 1/2006, 12-23.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Lathey, Gillian. "The Translation of Literature for Children."The Oxford Handbook of Translation Studies, edited by Kirsten Malmkjaer and Kevin Windle, Oxford University Press, 2011, 198-213
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 https://www.wuj.pl/UserFiles/File/FRAGMENTY/Przekladaniec_22-23_fragment.pdf
  10. http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm021.html
  11. https://wolnelektury.pl/media/book/pdf/kopciuszek.pdf
  12. http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/LittRed.shtml
  13. https://wolnelektury.pl/media/book/pdf/czerwony-kapturek.pdf
  14. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/45264/45264-h/45264-h.htm
  15. http://paulandlizdavies.com/poems/cat.htm
  16. Dr. Seuss. Kot Prot. (S. Barańczak, Trans.). 2003. Poznań: Media Rodzina.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Twain, Mark. Książe i żebrak. (M. Machay, Trans.). 2017. Kraków: GREG.
  18. Burnett, Hodgson. Frances. The Secret Garden. 1957. Surrey: Bookprint Limited Kingswood.
  19. Burnett, Hodgson. Frances. Tajemniczy Ogród (Z. Batko, Trans.). 2002. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Sara.