Picture Book Diplomacy, Part 1: Tom DeVries
Picture books make excellent cultural ambassadors. That’s what the folks at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers firmly believe, at least.
It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the things they love best is helping picture books travel around the world — importing and exporting beautiful books in translation that transcend their cultures of origin and offer readers everywhere “a small window into a larger world.”
This week on EerdWord, we’re celebrating “picture book diplomacy” with EBYR.
Today we hear from subsidiary rights manager (and soon-to-be new dad) Tom DeVries, who shares his perspective on Eerdmans picture books that have made their way into the hands of children in Germany, China, and beyond.
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If you are a regular follower of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers you will have noticed that we publish a large number of English translations of picture books that first appeared in other languages. What you may not know about are the number of our children’s picture books that are translated from English into foreign languages.
EerdWord featured a blog post from me about the many translations of Merrill Tenney’s New Testament Survey a while back. What I did not talk about there was how different translations of our children’s picture books are compared to our adult books. If you have ever done any translations of poetry you can certainly appreciate how difficult it is to get words, phrases, expressions, ideas, and meter in another language that still conveys the same message and tone of the original work. This kind of poetic, short, pithy language appears often in our picture books. Additionally, the artwork for our original books can sometimes be simply “too American” for international audiences.
However, as you can see by the beautiful images of translated Eerdmans books in this post, publishers from around the world do regularly take on such work.
As an anecdote, the story of the Chinese translation of A River of Words is particularly illuminating. This book is an award-winning picture biography of William Carlos Williams, a doctor and poet from New Jersey who died fifty years ago. Not exactly a known figure around the world. However, the captivating illustrations by Melissa Sweet and the engaging story told by Jen Bryant, along with the original poetry from Williams caught the attention of a literary agent in Taiwan with whom I work from time to time. From that little spark, a push to translate this book developed. Soon enough the agent located an art house publisher in Taiwan who would take on the project.
So a picture book biography of an American poet is now available in Chinese for readers who might never have known about William Carlos Williams. That kind of cultural sharing is exactly what we are all about here at Eerdmans.
Click on the images in this post to view larger versions.