Tag Archives: Booktrust

Are you sitting comfortably?

Reading with young children, pre-readers, is both necessary and a delight. Fiction for children is necessary because it is an early gateway to independent reading and because it builds empathy. There is an obligation to the individual and to our society to develop literacy in young people. This is the argument of Neil Gaiman in his lecture Reading and Obligation for the Reading Agency in October 2013. You can read his lecture in full on the Reading Agency website, here.

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‘The simplest way to raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity.’  Gaiman argues in favour of all reading, including comics, Enid Blyton and so-called ‘escapist’ fiction. ‘Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing.’ Anything they want to read will help them onto ‘the reading ladder’ and up, rung by rung into literacy. He makes a strong case for protecting libraries as well.

His argument about building empathy is also strong. Reading is different from action on screens, which happens to other people, in this respect, because it depends on the reader’s imagination. Further:

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you have never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

Extending Gaiman’s points, I argue that reading with pre-readers is a powerful way to build social bonds. It is necessarily a social activity, full of emotional and physical closeness. A few days ago, at their request I read some classic stories to my two grandsons. The older one is five years old and on the edge of reading, and at the end of each story he took pleasure and pride in matching pictures to words: bear, porridge, chair, Goldilocks… The younger one, who is two, fell asleep with his head on my arm. His brother and I shared conspiratorial smiles at this. They have both been enjoying books since they were just weeks old.

It is one of the chief pleasures of reading to share it with someone else, through a blog, in conversation with friends, in book groups and – in my case – with my grandsons. There was a time when they preferred different books. The picture above makes me smile as I attempted to appease the tastes of both boys. No wonder I look so awfully tired.

64 Char & Oli IMGP1812Reading to the very young crosses generations, and I have a much-loved sequence of photographs of my mother reading to her great-grandson. The book is The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda Armitage. The photograph was taken a couple of years ago, but we still love reading it. We love Hamish the cat’s resistance to entering the basket, which will mean an aerial flight over the sea to the lighthouse. Hamish’s job is to keep the seagulls off the wonderful lunch prepared by Mrs Grindling. We love listing the contents of Mr Grindling’s lunchbasket and shouting CLEAR OFF, YOU VARMINTS! with Mr Grindling as the seagulls steal every bit.

The older one has begun enjoying longer stories with chapters, like the BFG, or Paddington Bear. The younger one loves being read to, and is not that bothered what it is. Here he is with Mog by Judith Kerr, which appeals to his love of books and cats. I used to read Mog to his mother. Mog is another delightful (but dim) cat.

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I can see ahead years and years of reading aloud, of giving books, of sitting with books, and of hearing each of them discovering that they can do it on their own. For me, part of the pleasure is discovering that even over two or three generations we can share our tastes: for favourites such as the Three Bears, Mog, The BFG, and for new favourites such as It’s a Book! By Lane Smith or 365 penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental. (Thank you Anne P for suggesting this big book, which delights us with numbers as the collection of penguins grows by one more penguin every day for a whole year.)

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Here is a brief list of some of my current favourites from among the books I like reading with them.

Anything by Anthony Browne because his images allow you to enter strange but familiar worlds. My Dad was a favourite until it fell apart.

Where the wild things are. Maurice Sendak

Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which was one of my daughter’s favourite reads.

Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and pictures by Axel Scheffler. Be careful what you invent because it might just turn out to be true!

You can see that we share a taste for humour, cats, anthropomorphic animals and good illustrations.

Here’s a link to the Booktrust’s list of Our 100 best children’s books. Lots of people pointed out omissions and some will have voted for their favourites. Have you any suggestions for me to read with the boys? After all Christmas is coming and although it is true that a book’s not just for Christmas, it’s for life, the gift of a book is always a good one.

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Lost in fiction in translation

I have heard that publishers calculate a ceiling of about 3000 readers for any translated fiction. Only 3000! Are you one of the 3000? Perhaps you have contributed to the Scandinavian crime wave? Or have a copy of Kafka’s stories on your shelf.

Do you think that 3000 is a small number? I do, and I find it both very surprising and very depressing. It’s surprising because there is so much good fiction in translation. And it’s depressing because that kind of figure makes it harder for publishers to think of fiction in translation as a viable economic prospect. And because readers are missing out on innovative and enjoyable fiction.

Is it a small number because there is just so much good fiction in English that we don’t need to bother? Well that’s a very insular attitude. But the following figures suggest there might be some truth in it.

4.5% of literature published in the UK is translation. Compare with

3% in USA

12% in Germany

15% in France

24% in Spain

46% in Poland (figures from Publishing Perspectives)

It is possible that the figure is low because readers don’t get to hear enough about fiction in translation. So let’s celebrate those who promote it.

First: those imaginative, independent publishers: such as And Other Stories, Peirene Press and Quercus.

Second: The prizes: there are four to keep an eye on.

  1. The Man Booker International Prize, which in 2013 contained only 3 English language contenders (Lydia Davis won).
  2. IMPAC is the Dublin-based International Literary prize, in which public libraries feature strongly in making nominations. This year on the shortlist of ten novels, five were in translation.
  3. Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
  4. The Society of Authors also administers prizes for translation in a whole range of different languages.

Third: A number of other literary organisations support literature in translation in their programmes. One is the Booktrust which has a downloadable pamphlet of recommendations by 20 writers, called Discover a World of Reading. And there’s English PEN, Free Word and the London Review of Books.

Fourth: We should recognise the work of the translators. And I’m thrilled that one of the translators mentioned below taught me languages at school. Nice connection.

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Here’s my list of twelve books in translation not to be missed. No particular order.

  • WG Sebald anything by him. Translated by Michael Hulse and others (German)
  • Birgit Vanderbeke The Mussel Feast. Translated by Jamie Bullock (German)
  • Tove Jansson The Summer Book. Translated by Thomas Teal. (Swedish/Finland)
  • Per Petterson Out Stealing Horses. Translated by Anne Born. Winner of 2007 IMPAC Award (Norwegian)
  • Gerbrand Bakker The Twin. Translated by David Colman. Winner of 2010 IMPAC Award, and The Detour Winner of 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (Dutch)
  • Italo Calvino If on a winter’s Night a Traveller. Translated by William Weaver. (Italian)
  • Andrey Kurkov Death and the Penguin Translated by George Bird (Russian/Ukraine)
  • Diego Marani The New Finnish Grammar. Translated by Judith Landry (Italian)
  • Orphan Pamuk Various. Winner of 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. Translation by Maureen Freely and others. (Turkish)
  • Irene Nemirovsky Suite Francaise. Translated by Sandra Smith (French)
  • Heinrich Boll The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. Translated by Leila Vennewitz (German)
  • Evelio Rosero Armies. Translated by Anne Mclean. Winner of 2009 Independent Foreign Fiction prize. (Spanish/Columbia)

And then of course there are the classics, a list of which might start with these …

  • Cervantes Don Quixote no 1 on The Guardian’s 100 best novels list (Spanish)
  • Tolstoy War and Peace (Russian)
  • Erich Maria Remarques All Quiet on the Western Front (German)
  • Di Lampedusa The Leopard (Italian)
  • Flaubert Madame Bovary (French)
  • Alain-Fournier Le Grand Meaulnes (French) and ….

With so much excellent fiction being identified by publishers and prizes, and all that close and creative work being undertaken by translators, that figure of 3000 readers really should be higher.

Ok, that’s 17 books I’ve mentioned – at least. What have I left out? What would you recommend? Has you reading group found a gem not listed here?

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Filed under Books, Reading