In anticipation of World Children’s Day and the anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the Residential College and Ann Arbor Open School hosted an “Evening of International Children’s Literature” at the local K-8 school. Students from RCHUMS 411: The Art and Practice of Literary Translation, taught by RC German and Arts and Ideas in the Humanities faculty member, Karein Goertz, shared their own translations of international literature originally written in German, Russian and Italian. “The students had already completed the quiet work of bringing these wonderful works from one language into another. Now we wanted to give these stories a new life off the page and to introduce them to their intended young audience,” Goertz explains. “It was time to take them out of the classroom into the community.”

From left to right: Hava Kaplan, Nupur Vora, Tina Capodanno, Sarah Green, Camille Primeau, Mikayla Easley

The evening began with three simultaneous 10-minute readings, each opening with a few sentences in the source language and then switching to the English translation. Students and parents chose a particular reading and sat or stood around the reader: Hava Kaplan read from her translation of Janosch’s Oh, How Lovely Panama Is (orig, Oh, wie schön ist Panama), a philosophical German tale about friendship, wanderlust and how to find happiness. Tina Capodanno read from Susanna Tamaro’s The Great Tree (orig. Il gran albero), a whimsical Italian fable about an ancient tree and the squirrel who is determined to save it from destruction. Nupur Vora read from Hanna Johansen’s Felis, Felis (orig. Felis, Felis), a very funny story about the adventures of a cat, told from the cat’s perspective. The audience then had time to ask the translators a few questions about the book.

One translator comments, "I think all of us were a little nervous, but got over it as people crowded around us and asked questions and wante to hear our work. [Translation] is more of an art form than it might seem at first glance. It involves a lot of thought and craft on the translator's part." Another says, "It was great to leave college for a night and return to elementary school, when learning and reading were pure, unbridled fun." 

Here's a sample of audio from the event:


The middle schoolers then went onto the stage and performed a comical play in Spanish, Los Pies Apestosos, about a lion’s smelly feet and the fight it causes among the animals in the jungle.  For the final part of the evening, there were three more simultaneous readings of translations around tables at the back of the auditorium. Camille Primeau read from Michael Ende’s Momo , a German fantasy novel about time thieves and the mysterious child who brings time back to the people. Mikayla Easley read from Pavel Bazhov’s The Malachite Box (orig. Малахитовая Шкатулка), a Soviet-era Russian fairy tale that delves into lore of a mining region in the Ural mountains. Sarah Green read from Kirsten Boie’s Everything Is Going To Be Okay (orig. Bestimmt wird alles gut), a moving story about a refugee family from war-torn Syria that crosses the Mediterranean to start a new life in Germany. This latter story is particularly relevant to our times. It is a plea that Article 22 in the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child be respected: children who are refugees have the right to be protected and helped, and that we have the moral and legal obligation to do so.

On display, there were children’s books in many different languages—including Harry Potter in French, Arabic, Hindi, Spanish, Russian and German. The class had made a booklet of untranslatable terms, such as komorebi, a Japanese word expressing the act of walking through the forest and soaking in all the green light, or verschlimmbessern, a German verb describing the act of making something worse by trying to improve it. Finally, to underline the importance of foreign languages and the universal rights of children, the RC students decorated the walls with handmade multilingual posters of these rights, derechos, حقوق, Rechte, zo, droits, haki za, diritti, drets, práva, rättigheter, coraichean.

Congratulations, Karein, and students from RCHUMS 411 - The Art and Practice of Literary Translation, on a successful event and for getting local children excited about languages!