September is here and you know what that means -- the end of summer, the start of school, and let's not forget about Book Blogger Appreciation Week! This week (September 12-16) is a time for book bloggers to discuss the best of the best, to network and to talk books and more books.
One of my favorite parts of the week is interview day. I spend a lot of time reading other bloggers' posts, but it's really fun to find out more about the people behind the blogs. It's even more exciting to discover new bloggers, especially bloggers with a passion for children's literature.
I'm not sure how the organizers go about pairing up interview partners but I lucked out this year. Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Ellen, a newish children's book blogger from Madrid, Spain. Ellen posts reviews at her blog, We Read it Like This. Her reviews include a special twist. Can you guess what that special twist might be? (The blog title provides a clue.) Read on to learn why you should regularly read (and listen to) her splendid blog posts.
We Read It Like This Wind-up fish (c) Imogen Duthie. Used with permission
BC (Janelle): Many children's book bloggers write about the "read-aloud" potential of the books they review. You take a slightly different approach in your book posts. You often provide your own audio recordings along with your reviews! (Very cool, by the way) What made you decide to start a blog and adapt this format for your reviews?
WRLT (Ellen): One of my son’s gifts last Christmas was a recording of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are read by both his parents, with music and effects added on in a bit of a rush but rather professionally by my radio journalist husband (http://wereaditlikethis.blogspot.com/2011/02/where-wild-things-are-be-still.html). This was the first review and audio I posted on the blog.
Where the Wild Things Are read by We read it like this
Originally, my main reason for starting the blog was purely selfish. I wanted to keep a record of the books we read to our son, of what it was like reading them to him (both for us and for him). I also thought it would be nice for him (and us) now and later in life to have recordings of his favourite stories read by us, his parents. I thought a blog was a good way to actually get them down and keep it up, a way of committing to the idea.
Something else that encouraged me to start the blog was how many people remarked on my son’s power of concentration when it came to listening to –sometimes quite long– stories at a rather tender age. ‘My kid wouldn’t keep still for a minute’, they said. I was interested in showing that there is nothing special whatsoever about my son, and that it’s simply a question of choosing the right book (right for the kid and right for the adult reading it) in the “right” (natural, enjoyable) kind of way. I thought providing recordings of the (entirely personal) way we read my son’s favourite stories might be interesting for other parents, carers and teachers as a way of comparing notes and finding nice books to read.
BC (Janelle): Can you briefly describe the steps involved in making an audio recording for a post? What devices and tools do you use? Do you think that you'll eventually include your son in some of the sessions?
WRLT (Ellen): Except for the recording of Where the Wild Things Are, with the fancy music and effects, mentioned above, all the other recordings are just plain old me reading in front of a tiny Sony recorder that does the job. I sometimes do two takes but normally don’t even do that. If I manage to read it without tripping up on any words, it goes up. I do not intend to pose as a professional story-teller or “voice”. I’m not. I’m simply inviting readers of the blog to have a sneak and listen to the way we read some of our favourite stories.
Having said that, I’m sure we’ll do at least a couple more “fancier” recordings, because it was so much fun doing it and our son loved the result so much.
As to including my son in the recordings, I have actually been thinking about this recently, now that he can talk a lot more (he’s about to turn 2.5). I did include one snippet of my son joining in in the review of Julia Donaldson’s Tiddler, The Story Telling Fish. And as I say, I’m pondering about how to go about it from now. I think some stories in particular would really benefit from his presence in the recordings, making them truer to the way we actually read them. So yes, I’m sure he’ll gain more presence in the recordings as he grows older.
BC (Janelle): You obviously have a passion for children's books. Did you grow up with books? To who or what do you credit your love of reading?
WRLT (Ellen): I am indeed passionate about children’s books and this predates the birth of my son. I have always liked them and I continued to buy picture books and story books for my own pleasure right through university and as a full-grown adult.
I did grow up with books, yes. Both my parents are novelists. I grew up in a household where books weren’t an issue, they were just there, everywhere, as part of life, for you to pick up. My father used to tell and write stories for us and I remember my mother reading all sorts of things to us out loud well past the age when we could also do so on our own. So yes, my parents may have had something to do with it!
On your blog, you mention that you work as a translator. You also provide a translated "sister" blog to We Read it Like This called Lo leemos así . When looking at translated versions of familiar children's books, do you ever notice subtle differences in the stories, for instance, changed meaning or different verse rhythms? Do any children's books come to mind that you prefer reading in the English language or vice versa?
WRLT (Ellen): We are a bilingual (Spanish-English) family, so we read books in both languages. Generally speaking, if a book was originally written in English, we get it in English (although there are a couple of exceptions of books we’ve been given as gifts, and, of course, the books we get out of the library here, many of which are in translation, mainly from English).
Translation inevitably introduces change. Echoing the original tone and feel in the new language will often require substantial change in many different aspects. Rhythm is especially tricky. Spanish and English rhythms bear very little resemblance at all. So a good translation will recreate the rhythm in the other language by creating an equivalent rhythm in that language rather than attempting to ‘copy’ it.
Translating literature is no easy task. Unfortunately, children’s literature, perhaps because it is sometimes deemed a minor form of art –or at least the “text” part is-, is not always given to literary translator/writer teams or even to particularly professional translators, whatever their field of expertise. So when you find a good version in translation you really do feel like jumping up and down and waving it about. ‘Here! Look what I’ve found!’ An example of this is the Spanish translation of Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Dare I say I like it better than the original? (And I do like the original!). It manages to add to and complement the original in unexpected ways. It takes its playfulness and elaborates. I love it. Another example is poet Gloria Fuertes’ version of Sendak’s The Nutshell Library, a really lovely version that manages to recreate Sendak’s spirit in Spanish, rather than simply provide a translation of the words.
BC (Janelle): The majority of my readers are from the U.S. and Canada. Could you recommend a few children's books or authors popular in Madrid that we might not know about? Is it hard to find English language children's books in Madrid?
WRLT (Ellen): The Spanish tradition of children’s literature as we know it is a fairly new thing, especially the picture book concept. If one looks at what the (impressive number) of children’s book publishers are doing in Spain, many are looking back at US and British classics from the 40s onwards and publishing them for the first time in Spain (there are still so many interesting things that have never been published in Spanish that there is still a lot to be done on that front. Perhaps precisely for this reason, Spanish authors writing in Spanish find it quite hard to squeeze on to the scene. One of the ways many of the Spanish authors make it and survive is through the several extraordinarily generous picture book and book competitions in general held in Spain.
Recommendations? It’s hard to find things translated into English, but someone who does very interesting stuff is Daniel Nesquens. Check out his My Tattoed Dad available on Amazon.
I’m also a big fan of Carmen Martín Gaite’s Little Red Riding Hood in Manhattan and of Marta Echegaray’s Inciértico, a real gem of a book in the nonsense tradition.
Oh! And there is one fabulous book I’d like to recommend. Although originally published in German in 1993, A Taste of the Moon has become tremendously popular in Spain since it was published in Spanish in 1999 by the publisher Kalandraka. It was published by the same publisher in English last year. I don’t know how easy it might be to get your hands on a copy in English from outside Spain, but please do try! It’s more than worth it!
We buy our books online through Amazon or The Book Depository, so we have no problem getting English language books here. There are also quite a few bookshops with an English language kids section in Madrid. We can’t complain in that sense.
BC (Janelle): I know that you are fairly new to the book blog world. Do you have any personal blogging goals for the next year?
WRLT (Ellen): My main goal, and it is no small goal, is to keep it going! I work full time as a translator and I enjoy spending as much time as possible together as a family, so I really don’t have much free time. One to two posts a month is probably my realistic goal. My posts are long and I spend quite a long time on each of them!
Generally, my aim is to strike the right balance between rigour and enthusiasm and for it never, ever to become a chore.
I've really enjoyed the chance to peruse Ellen's website this week, and I'm rather sad that she lives so far away. She sounds like exactly the kind of person I'd love to meet (adore her accent), and I bet our sons would get along wonderfully. On her blog she challenges others to make their own "we read it like this" recordings. I might just have to take her up on that challenge one of these days so we can compare. My family does a mean version of We're Going on a Bear Hunt. It's one of our favorites as well.
For other book blog interview swaps, visit the Book Blogger Appreciation Week website. And, visit We Read it Like This today to read my answers to Ellen's interview questions.