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Translated Children’s Literature and Poetry

By Chou Sing Chu Foundation

Translated literature and poetry are essential in our reading journey – they are our gateway to the outside world and the door to our inner world.

Outstanding children’s literature can expand the horizons of the young ones. The English-proficient children of Singapore are likely to be familiar with western literature, giving them an advantage when reading the corresponding Chinese translations. These children will not only be able to better understand the beautiful literary world constructed from both English and Chinese words, they will also be effectively learning both languages through reading the original and translated versions.

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Translators: Pillars of Translated Literature

Translators are the soul of translated literature. If translators are not adequately proficient in both languages, the readers’ understanding of the original work will be severely affected. Most readers will not read translations of the same work in other languages and that means a poor translation may result in a loss of readership for the original book.

There are many Chinese translations of children’s literature in the current book market and we would like to recommend two accomplished translators cum writers to the young readers and teachers. Besides Mr Ren Rongrong, the well-known children’s literature writer and translator featured in the last issue and whose name is synonymous with high-quality translations, there are two masters: Zheng Zhenduo and Ye Junjian.

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Zheng Zhenduo (1898–1958) was an illustrious Chinese writer and translator. His most notable work is the translation of the great Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore’s collection of poems, The Crescent Moon · Stray Birds. A classic work, it is still widely circulated. Ye Junjian (1914–1999) was a renowned Chinese children’s writer. He translated the Chinese version of The Complete Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and it was recognised in Denmark as the best translation in the over 80 languages. Mr Ye revered Hans Christian Andersen not just as a children’s storyteller, but as a great writer and poet too, translating Andersen’s fairy tales directly from the original Danish and systematically introduced it to the Chinese readers. To commend his contribution, Denmark awarded Mr Ye the Order of the Dannebrog, an honour which Mr Andersen himself had also received.

Poetry: The Sun That Lights Up Life

Eminent American children’s writer and illustrator Leo Lionni (1910–1999) illustrated the charm of poetry through one of his best picture books Frederick. In the story, Frederick is collecting sights, sounds and smells while other field mice are busy gathering food for the winter. During the long and cold winter days, Frederick recites one poem after another, feeding the spirits of his fellow hungry mice with the warmth of the sun and vibrant colours of flowers, and bringing their soul an unspeakable joy when they need hope most.

There are two writers from China whose poetry selections for children are strongly recommended: Bei Dao and Ye Jiaying. Bei Dao (1949– ), whose real name is Zhao Zhenkai, is one of China’s greatest contemporary poets and writers. His modern anthology Poetry for Children, published in 2014, is a collection of 101 poems (71 non-Chinese poems and 30 Chinese poems) by 57 poets of different nationalities. Children will have no problem understanding and reciting these short poems. Bei Dao feels that “to let the children’s natural instincts and perception open the door to poetry, the younger the better.”

Ye Jiaying (1924– ) is the Director of the Institute of Chinese Classical Culture at Nankai University in China, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She advocates that “as long as one has feelings, emotions and a passion for culture, one will be able to recognise life’s genuineness, vitality and poignant moments in the poems; this is a life of unceasing growth.” With this principle, Ms Ye published Classical Poetry for Children in 2015 to enhance the children’s mind and character with its 218 selections of 177 classical Chinese poems and 41 classical Chinese ci poetry.

Our world is big; our inner worlds should have room for all things. May children find joy in learning while roaming freely in the literary world.

An Excerpt of Rabindranath Tagore’s Poem “The Beginning”
(translated by Zheng Zhenduo)

“Where have I come from, where did you pick me up?” the baby asked its mother.
She answered, half crying, half laughing, and clasping the baby to her breast –
“You were hidden in my heart as its desire, my darling.”