They're Everywhere! Polish Books for Kids in Translation
#language & literature
They’ve gained international distinctions – and won over the hearts of young readers all the way from China and South Korea to the U.S., Mexico and Australia. Culture.pl presents the biggest Polish hits on the international children’s book market.
‘Kaytek the Wizard’ by Janusz Korczak
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Cover & illustrations by Avi Katz in ‘Kaytek the Wizard’, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, 2012, photo: Penlight Publications
Written in 1934 by Janusz Korczak, Kaytek the Wizard is one of the most popular Polish books for kids. The story about children’s imagination, the power of dreams and the difficulties of growing up and making the world a better place has been translated into French, German, Spanish, Hebrew, Russian and Belarusian.
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The English translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, one of the most prominent contemporary Polish-English translators, has been nominated for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Award. In an interview with Mikołaj Gliński from Culture.pl, the translator admits it was quite a challenge:
Korczak’s language is often ambiguous and poses a lot of difficulties for the translator – this applies especially to his dialogues. To some extent, it’s the effect of trying to mimic the language of a child – to recreate what was actually said by the children he took care of [in the orphanage].
Besides language difficulties, the problem also lay in the pre-war topography of Warsaw. That’s why the English translation was accompanied by footnotes. Kaytek the Wizard was published by a small publishing house from New York, Penlight Publications, in August 2012. The book was illustrated by Israeli artist Avi Katz.
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‘The Locomotive’ by Julian Tuwim
What do the huffs, puffs, whistles, whizzes and other plays-on-words by Julian Tuwim sound like in other languages? The Universitas publishing house recently released The Locomotive in three languages: Polish, English and German, with the classic pre-war illustrations by Jan Lewitt and Jerzy Him.
‘Bees’ by Piotr Socha
The large-format album was translated into Spanish, German and several other languages. The author of Bees, Piotr Socha, was awarded the prize for best scientific book in the ‘children’s book’ category at Wissenschaftsbuch des Jahres 2017 in Vienna. The book consists of 30 illustrated spreads, inviting the reader into the world of bees. We find out how a honeycomb is made, what a beekeeper’s job consists of and what different honey types taste like. Piotr Socha's book was inspired by his family story and childhood memories – the author’s father was a beekeeper. Aside from books for children, Socha makes board games and audiobooks.
The Book of Bees by Piotr Socha – Image Gallery
Centre of Polish books in London: Tuwim, Chernobyl, emigration
In 2014, the Poznań-based comic book publishing house Centrala moved to London, opening its doors to the British market. Here, it published its biggest hits, i.e. the Polish-English Locomotive – a book based on Julian Tuwim’s famous poem. The graphic designer Małgorzata Gurowska and journalist Joanna Ruszczyc juxtaposed one of the most well-known Polish poems with difficult, contemporary questions about national identity, racism, antisemitism and attitudes towards ecology and animals.
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Covers of ‘Elephant on the Moon’, ‘Chernobyl: The Zone’ and ‘Do You Miss Your Country?’, photo: courtesy of Centrala publishing house
Elephant on the Moon (also a publication by Centrala) is a story about astronomy, craters and extraordinary cosmic discoveries. The presence of an ‘elephant on the moon’ was allegedly observed by Sir Paul Neal, an astronomer of the Royal Society, in the 17th century. Even then, the discovery caused quite a commotion and sparked the imagination of writers. Thanks to the satire by Samuel Butler, the story made it all the way to France, where even la Fontaine wrote a story about it – Un Animal dans la Lune (An Animal on the Moon).
Almost 350 years later, Gosia Herba and Mikołaj Pasiński returned to the moon story, creating a new story based on it. The book was published in Polish, English and Spanish.
Amongst Centrala’s international repertoire, it’s worth mentioning the comic-book Chernobyl: The Zone by Francisco Sánchez, with illustrations by Natacha Bustos, and a Polish-English book on the subject of emigration – Do You Miss Your Country? by Monika Szydłowska. It’s a kind of documentary or reportage about millions of emigrants and their families. The publishing house’s site says:
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Everyone can be an emigrant: a mechanic as well as a violinist. Skype phone calls, groceries at Polish stores or waiting for the first pound pay cheque have become the experience of an entire generation.
‘Wszystko Gra’ (Everything’s Fine-Tuned) by Anna Czerwińska-Rydel & Marta Ignerska
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The cover of the French edition of ‘Wszystko Gra’ by Anna Czerwińska-Rydel & Marta Ignerska, photo: The Fryderyk Chopin Institute
After the German, Korean, Spanish and French editions of Wszystko Gra were showered with prizes, it was time for China! Its Asian success seems inevitable – it’s enough to look at the list of awards Anna Czerwińska-Rydel and Marta Ignerska have won so far: the Bologna Ragazzi Award 2012 in the non-fiction category, the Critics’ Choice Grand Prix in Vienna and the silver medal in the European Design Awards 2012.
Wszystko Gra is a story about music and instruments. The authors invite readers into the world of musicians and concert halls. The reviewers are in awe of the way that Marta Ignerska’s illustrations have made sounds come to life. The book was published by the Wytwórnia publishing house.
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The Korean fan club of Iwona Chmielewska
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Cover and illustration of the Korean rendition of ‘A House of the Mind: Maum’ by Heekyoung Kim, illustration by Iwona Chmielewska, photo: Warstwy publishing house
She is the only Polish author to have a fan club in South Korea. Iwona Chmielewska often returns there, teaches classes at the University in Seoul and meets with her readers, who have learned a lot about Polish culture and the history of Toruń from her books. In 2011, a picture book with the illustrations from her A House of the Mind: Maum with text by Kim Hee-Kyung (published by Changbi Publishers, Korea) won first prize in the Non-Fiction category of the Bologna Ragazzi Award. The jury admired the abstract, geometric forms made with painterly precision and mastery.
In 2014, the first Polish edition of Two People, a book about relationships published in Korea in 2008 by Sakeyjul, came out in Poland. That same publishing house also published another book by Chmielewska, Blue Stick, Blue Box. Her books are read by children in China, Taiwan Mexico and Germany. Her book Eyes won first prize at the Bologna Ragazzi Awards.
Eyes by Iwona Chmielewska – Image Gallery
The Mizielińskis are everywhere
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The cover and illustration of the English translation of ‘Maps’ by the Mizielińskis, photo: publishing house’s promotional materials
The books by this husband-and-wife duo are one of Poland’s top design exports. Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński are recipients of numerous awards and distinctions for both book and online projects: amongst the better known are the Bologna Ragazzi Award 2010 for What Will Become of You?, the French Prix Sorcières 2013 and the Italian Primo Andersen 2013 for their bestseller Maps, which take young readers on a whimsical tour of the world.
The New York Times placed Maps on their list of six most beautiful children’s books of 2013. The book is without a doubt the biggest success of Polish children literature on the world market. In 2012 alone, over two million copies were sold, in 25 different languages. Readers in Japan have purchased more than 100,000 copies.
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Compiled by AL, Mar 2017, translated by WF, Mar 2017
kaytek the wizard
Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński
polish childrens books
polish book design
Sources: promotional materials, Culture.pl