Thoughts on translations

While this isn’t a parent blog, it’s impossible to think that that world won’t seep into posts here every once in a while. In this case, I’ve been surprised to find that my constant reading of children’s books over the past year has helped me really figure out exactly what my point of view is regarding translated texts. I’m also becoming even more picky regarding what makes a good translation.

Too often, translations just focus on translating the words and fail to capture the additional nuances of the text. This appears to be most apparent in children’s literature since the actual literal meaning of the words needs to be in balance with the rhyme, meter, and general tone of the overall book even more than it is with “grown-up” literature (“adult” literature being what’s sold in adult “bookstores”).

I’ve been consistently disappointed with the way that children’s classics are translated into Spanish. Buenas Noches Luna fails to capture the essense of Goodnight Moon and La Oruga Muy Hambrienta becomes a bear to read when compared to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. My realization after being frustrated with the translations? I prefer less-literal (or less-sensical) translations which manage to keep everything else that’s wonderful about the text.

My son will grow up being exposed to the British-English Harry Potters first. (If he likes them I’ll have to find the Canadian version of the movies.) He’ll get the original translation of The Little Prince once he’s a bit older. He’ll learn why it’s fantastic that the hero of El Hobbit is named Bilbo Bolsón. And he’ll have his choice of all kinds of translations of the classics when he goes to college.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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