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After two children’s books translated from Indonesian published earlier this year, The Adventures of Na Willa and When it Rains (read more here), innovative publisher The Emma Press is now publishing a new illustrated children’s poetry book: Super Guppy by Edward van de Vendel, illustrated by Fleur van der Weel, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer.

The translator has answered our questions and told us more about his experience of translating a children’s poetry book.


The translator David Colmer. Photo credit: Michele Hutchison.

Super Guppy is a book of poems for children. What can you say about the translation of poetry and of books for children, and about the translation of poetry books for children specifically?
I translate across a wide range of genres and for different age groups and my goal is to reproduce the style of the book I’m translating. Practically that means tailoring the English to the rhythm, word choice, tone and sound of the original. Poetry books for children aren’t any different in that regard. I do my best to avoid imposing my own style and take my cues from the author. Of course, I’m also influenced by the possibilities and traditions of English, but I try to imagine what the author would have done if writing in English. If the original book has a regular rhythm or a fixed rhyming pattern, I attempt to do the same in English. If the style is less regular, I take that freedom too. 


Super Guppy by Edward van de Vendel (The Emma Press, 2019). Front cover. 


What was your experience of translating Super Guppy?
The poems in Supper Guppy are mostly quite short, with short lines that often turn on a particular word or phrase. That can be quite difficult because English might not have a similar expression or there might not be a good rhyme that works in the same way. Initially I thought I would need to take a lot of liberties to make the poems work in English, but in the end I felt like I was able to stick surprisingly closely to the Dutch originals. Once I’d finished the translations I discussed them with the author, Edward van de Vendel, and, with his gentle encouragement, reworked them until they were as good as I could possibly get them. Sometimes this took a while as I was a bit too fond of some of my solutions and reluctant to let them go. I think both Edward and I can be quite stubborn, but that’s not a bad thing when you’ve worked hard on something and want it to turn out well. 

Do you have a favourite poetry book for children in translation?
Oh, that’s quite a hard question. Looking back on my own childhood I remember prose translations I was very fond of, but I can’t think of any translated poetry I read when I was little at all. And living here in the Netherlands, the children’s poetry and translated children’s poetry I’ve been exposed to through the education system and my daughter’s reading when she was younger was mostly in Dutch. I guess I’ll have to spread my net a bit wider in English and get back to you on this one! 

Are there any Dutch children's books in translation you'd like to recommend?
Pushkin have published some fabulous children’s books in recent years, among them quite a few Dutch ones, including Tonke Dragt’s tremendously successful Letter for the King, translated by Laura Watkinson, which is an exciting adventure and a great read. Laura has also translated another potential classic, Annet Schaap’s Lampie and the Children of the Sea, which is due for release any day now. And if I can mention my own translations I would say two books by Annie M.G. Schmidt, the queen of twentieth-century Dutch children’s lit: Tow-Truck Pluck and The Cat who Came In off the Roof, also published by Pushkin. These two books are very different, but both funny, warm and entertaining, with a strong emotional and social core. I can’t recommend them highly enough. 


We kindly thank The Emma Press and the translator David Colmer for their contribution to our blog.



More about the translator:
David Colmer is an Australian translator of Dutch literature and has won many prizes for his literary translations. He lives in Amsterdam.

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