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Books in Translation

It’s always good to welcome new books translated into English. Far too few books written in other languages are available to young readers of English. Translation tends to be a very one-way activity, with many more English language books being translated into foreign languages, which means we miss out on many excellent stories.

Luckily there are a few dedicated independent publishers who try to remedy this sorry situation, and Alma Books have just re-introduced us to one, and followed it with their own translation of another modern fable by the award-winning Chilean writer Luis Sepúlveda.

Sepúlveda was exiled from his native country because of his political activism, and The Story of a Seagull and the Cat who Taught her to Fly, originally published in Spanish more than twenty years ago, translated into English by Margaret Sayers Peden in 2003 but at that point not available in the UK, and now distinctively illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura, is set in Sepúlveda’s adopted home of Hamburg.

Here the many different animals (including humans) who live around the port collaborate to help Zorba the cat who has been asked by a dying seagull, caught in an oil slick, to incubate and raise the chick from the egg she lays. Sepúlveda’s gentle humour and timeless narrative style are well caught in Peden’s translation, as is his celebration of diversity, loyalty, trust and respect for the environment.

This short modern fable has been translated into more than forty languages, and sold in its millions, so it becomes a very welcome addition to classic titles available to UK readers.

Luckily The Story of a Snail Who Discovered the Importance of Being Slow has only had to wait four years for the publication of an English translation, this time by Nick Caistor, and again with Kitamura’s quirky images. Caistor catches Sepúlveda’s style and tone beautifully, and the themes of diversity, friendship and respect for other creatures and the environment shine through the text.

The snail, named Rebel by Memory the tortoise, the first friend he makes when his inquisitiveness leads his fellow snails to exile him, displays just the kind of curiosity which constantly encourages a child to ask ‘why?’ As a result readers will empathize with a character who is treated with impatience and irritation for wanting answers. In the end it is Rebel who leads those who will listen to a safer new home, to escape the relentless, unthinking, uncaring progress of environmental destruction. These are two timeless short fables which will prompt KS2 readers to think more widely about attitudes that affect their own lives.

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