Anna Gustafsson Chen is a prolific translator of Chinese books, and yet we haven’t featured her translations of Chinese children’s books before. So, this post is to highlight her translations of children’s books – scroll to the end of the blog. It’s also a homage to Anna, who posts a new Chinese book cover design on her instagram/ Facebook/ Pinterest every week, and writes the Bokberget [Book Mountain] blog about Chinese books in Swedish.
Anna, congratulations for all your amazing work! Please tell us more about your own translations of children’s books, and about Chinese children’s books in Swedish.
Chinese children’s books translated into Swedish by Anna (scroll down for details)
AGC: Chinese children’s books aren’t exactly a big thing in Sweden, but since 2010 at least 24 books have been translated and published in Swedish, and four more are on their way, so that’s something. [scroll to the end of this post for details and book covers] Right now, there are two publishers who stand out a bit: ChinLit and Vombat. ChinLit, as you may guess, is focused on Chinese literature for adults and children, whereas Vombat publishes children’s books from all over the world. Almost all of the published books are picture books – I guess it may be easier to bridge a genuine or perceived “culture gap” when there are more images than text in a book. And the translation cost is lower … Most of these books have been published in English as well, but there are exceptions, like Jag heter Maximilian och är 900 år (我是夏蛋蛋/My name is Xia Dandan), written by Peng Yi 彭懿 and illustrated by Zao Dao 早稻, and a couple of books by Yin Jianling 殷健灵 that were published in the early 2010s by a now defunct publisher.
I asked the publishers Eva Ekeroth (ChinLit) and Tin Eriksson (Vombat) how their books have been received, and they both say they’ve had a very positive response from readers and critics. One of ChinLit’s books, Blinda rödluvan och vargen (走出森林的小红帽/Little Red Riding Hood Out of the Wood) by Han Xu 韩煦, was in fact turned into a theatre play for the national Swedish radio. That book, as well as Cao Wenxuan’s 曹文轩 and Yu Rong’s 郁蓉 Sommar (夏/Summer) published by Vombat, was also included in a list of books that the Swedish Arts Council gave away for free to all pre-schools in Sweden in 2019. I’d call that success!
I rarely think of myself as a translator of children’s literature, which is perhaps odd since I have translated 11 Chinese books for children and young adults (if I include the 3 that are coming out later this year and next spring). Probably because I translated more books for adults – and there’s so much more text in those books! But translating picture books is difficult, precisely becuse the’re so little text in them. Every single word matters, in a different way than in a 700-page novel for adults.
In some sense, it’s strange that I haven’t translated more Chinese children’s books. I did in fact sort of start a publishing house for translated literature for children and young adults back in 2005, but we didn’t put out any Chinese books until this year, when I translated Xiong Liang’s 熊亮 Drakjägarna (屠龙族/The Dragon Tribe).
In 2005, I was still working as a librarian at the International Library in Stockholm, surrounded every day by gorgeus picture books and interesting YA novels from all over the world. Swedes are not averse to reading translated literature, but most translated books are originally written in English, and when it comes to books for children there’s not that much translated at all from Africa, Asia and Latin America, not even from smaller countries in Europe. I did my best to promote these books to Swedish publishers, but they weren’t that interested. In the end, I contacted a publisher who was focusing on “world literature” but for adults, and asked him if he shouldn’t start an imprint for children’s books. It turned out a colleague of mine, Matilda Wallin, had asked him the same thing just a few days earlier, so he said yes. We did some of the work and he invested the money. At that time, everyone immediately assumed that I would only try to push for Chinese books, and that annoyed me so much (I like to believe that I’m not that biased!) so to start with we focused on literature from other languages. We’ve published 26 titles so far (we took a break for a couple of years when we simply didn’t have the time to work with this, but we’re back on track again).
I’ve translated more picture books from Taiwan than from mainland China: four books by Jimmy Liao 几米 and two by Liu Hsu-kung 刘旭恭. I really love them! I’m also a great admirer of Xiong Liang’s work and hope to get to translate more of his books in the future. And I hope I’ll get to translate some Chinese books for middle grade readers and young adults as well, but most publishers seem to believe there’s no market for them here. There are books that work for young adults but have been classified as books for adults in Sweden, for instance Chun Sue’s 春树 Beijing Doll (北京娃娃) and Qin Wenjun’s 秦文君 När jag var sexton år (十六岁少女/A Sixteen Year Old Girl). I guess one way to get more YA books translated is to market them as books for adults – that way the publishers won’t be scared off and young people will find them, since they’re not afraid of reading books for adults anyway.
Chinese children’s books in Swedish (2010-2020)
- Min pappa kan trolla (会魔法的爸爸) by Xiao Dingli 肖定丽 (text), Zhu Dandan 朱丹丹 (ill.), transl. Bengt Petterson (JH Publishers, 2010)
- Hitta hem (回家/Going home) by Du Du 杜杜 (text), Luo Yin 罗殷 (ill.), transl. Catarina Edelsvärd (JH Publishers, 2010)
- En ovanlig prinsessa (不寻常的女孩/An unusual princess) by Wu Meizhen 伍美珍, transl. Olle Sahlin & Karolina Sahlin (Egmont Kärnan, 2011)
- Sjakalen och vargen (红豺/Jackal and Wolf) by Shen Shixi 沈石溪, transl. Olle Sahlin & Karolina Sahlin (Egmont Kärnan, 2012)
- Flykten (出逃/Escape) by Yin Jianling 殷健灵, transl. Göran Sommardal (JH Publishers, 2013)
- Stjärnenatt (星空/Starry Starry Night) by Jimmy Liao 几米, transl. Anna Gustafsson Chen (Mirando, 2013)
- Koppen som försvann (失踪的婷婷/The Missing Cup) by Cao Wenxuan 曹文轩, transl. Eva Ekeroth (Bonnier Carlsen, 2013)
- Molnfågel (朵云一样的八哥/Free as a Cloud) by Yu Rong 郁蓉 (ill.) and Bai Bing 白冰 (text), transl. Philip Mattsson (Vombat, 2014)
- Skogens hemligheter (森林里的秘密/Secrets in the Woods) by Jimmy Liao, transl. Anna Gustafsson Chen (Mirando, 2014)
- Guji-guji (Guji Guji) by Chih-Yuan Chen 陳致元, transl. Marianne Lindfors (Hippo, 2014)
- Fjäderns resa (羽毛/Feather) by Cao Wenxuan (text) and Roger Mello (ill.) transl. Anna Gustafsson Chen (Hjulet, 2014)
- Jordnötsprutten (花生米养的屁/The Peanut Fart) by Wang Xiaoming 王晓明, transl. Lilly Xie, (ChinLit, 2015)
- Vem ska musen gifta sig med? (老鼠嫁女/The Mouse Bride) by Lu Feng 鲁风 (text) and Darlingface 许玉安, transl. Lilly Xie (ChinLit, 2015)
- Rök (烟/Smoke) by Cao Wenxuan (text) and Yu Rong (ill.), transl. Philip Mattson (Vombat, 2015)
- Räven, farfar och jag (爷爷的打火匣/火焰/Flame) by Xu Lu 徐鲁 (text) and Zhu Chengliang 朱成梁 (ill.), transl. Eva Ekeroth (Natur & Kultur, 2016)
- Färgernas ljud (地下铁/The Sound of Colors) by Jimmy Liao, transl. Anna Gustafsson Chen (Mirando, 2016)
- Tuppens nya kläder (沒毛雞/The Featherless Chicken) by Chi-Yuan Chen, transl. Marianne Lindfors (Hippo, 2016)
- Jordnötshunden (花生米样的狗/The Peanut Dog) by Wang Xiaoming (text) and Wang Didi 王菂菂 (ill.), transl. Lilly Xie (ChinLit, 2017)
- Sommar (夏/Summer) by Cao Wenxuan (text) and Yu Rong (ill.), transl. Marta Östborn (Vombat, 2017)
- Familjen Sköldpadda tar sig till havet (乌龟一家去看海/The Tortoise Family Goes to the Sea) by Zhang Ning 张宁, transl. Eva Ekeroth (ChinLit, 2018)
- Är du min bror? (橘色的马/The Orange Horse) by Liu Hsu-kung 刘旭恭, transl. Anna Gustafsson Chen (Natur & Kultur, 2018)
- Blinda Rödluvan och vargen (走出森林的小红帽/Little Red Riding Hood Out of the Wood) by Han Xu 韩煦, transl. Lilly Xie (ChinLit, 2018)
- Jag heter Maximilian och är 900 år (我是夏蛋蛋/My name is Xia Dandan), by Peng Yi 彭懿 (text) and Zao Dao 早稻 (ill.), transl. Heshan (ChinLit, 2019)
- Drakjägarna (屠龙族/The Dragon Tribe) by Xiong Liang 熊亮, transl. Anna Gustafsson Chen (Trasten, 2020)
- Jag är Hua Mulan (我是花木兰/I am Hua Mulan) by Qin Wenjun 秦文君 (text) and Yu Rong (ill.), transl. Anna Gustafsson Chen (Hjulet, 2020)
- Swedish title unknown (鄂温克的驼鹿/The Moose of Ewenki) by Gerelchimeg Blackcrane 黑鹤 (text) and Jiu Er 九儿 (ill.), transl. Marta Östborn (Vombat, 2020)
- Till Sköldpaddslandet (到乌龟国去/To Turtle Land) by Liu Hsu-kung, transl. Anna Gustafsson Chen (Natur & Kultur, 2021)
- Swedish title unknown (永不停止的奔跑/The Unstoppable Trek) by Cao Wenxuan (text) and Igor Olyenikov (ill.), transl. Anna Gustafsson Chen (Vombat, 2021)
Chinese children’s books translated by Anna
It’s interesting to see what happens to book covers in translation – and as Anna frequently posts images of Chinese book covers on her social media (“book cover of the week”), we’ve placed side by side for comparison the Chinese, Swedish and English covers of some of the Chinese children’s books that Anna has translated.
Är du min bror? (橘色的馬/The Orange Horse), by Liu Hsu-Kung 劉旭恭 (Natur & Kultur Allmänlitteratur, 2018) and into English, translator unknown (Reycraft Books, 2019)
Fjäderns resa (羽毛/Feather), by Cao Wenxuan 曹文軒 and Roger Mello (illus.) (Hjulet, 2014) and into English by Chloe Garcia Roberts (Elsewhere Editions, 2017)
Flickan med den röda halsduken (Red Scarf Girl), by Jili Jiang (Bergh, 1999) and in English (Harper Collins)
Stjärnenatt (星空/The Starry Starry Night), by Jimmy Liao 几米 (Mirando, 2013)
Skogens hemligheter (森林里的秘密/The Secrets of the Forest), by Jimmy Liao 几米 (Mirando, 2014)
Färgernas ljud (地下鐵/The Sound of Colours), by Jimmy Liao 幾米 (Bokförlaget Mirando, 2016) and into English, translator unknown (Little Brown, 2006)
När månen glömde (月亮忘記了/When the Moon Forgot), by Jimmy Liao 幾米 (Bokförlaget Mirando, 2019) and into English, translator unknown (Little Brown, 2009)
Drakjägarna (屠龙族/The Dragon Tribe) by Xiong Liang 熊亮, transl. Anna Gustafsson Chen (Trasten, 2020), and into English by Clarissa Yu Shen (Better Chinese, 2008).