I Can Feel the Words

by Hazel Edwards
The Internet Writing Journal, April 2003
"I can feel the words and the pictures!" said the 4 year old.

Having my books in Braille with tactile enhanced "feelie" illustrations means entering another culture where tactile matters more than visual. This is the international translation which has given me the greatest pleasure although when I was first asked permission for my picture books to be translated into Braille, I said, "They're picture books. You can't translate pictures for blind kids."

Fortunately, I was wrong.

My books have also been translated into Japanese, Chinese, Finnish, French and "American" where Mum became Mom and biscuits became "cookies". So now I get fan email in various languages from Beijing, New York, the Middle East, Paris and Antarctica. I answer it all, mainly in English, because if a story provokes genuine questions, it matters.

Recently, my There's a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake (Hodder) and other titles were included in the Feelix Braille project to familiarise blind pre-schoolers with the concept of books. In a bright orange case, (delivered free by Australia Post) there is a picture book, with either Level 1 or 2 Braille text added, a hand-made mini book with feelie pictures to "read under the bedclothes" and a soft toy hippo with cake to "cuddle" and a stack of cake tins. In addition, there's an audio of the author-read story and original hippo music. These cases are available for three weeks for families with a sight-impaired pre-schooler.

So I do regard these "Feelix" books as translations which travel.

When There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake was first published in 1980, and translated into Japanese and "American", an earlier Braille version with tactile enhanced pictures was produced and widely used. I showed it in schools to sighted students who were fascinated by the feel-reading concept in an interleaven book which has the original print page plus an inserted page of Braille which could be shared simultaneously with a sighted grandparent or sibling. Often I would wind a scarf around a sighted child's head and get them to "read" with their fingers while the class looked at the print. More than the story was being translated.

When the Finnish edition of my YA novel General Store (Hodder) arrived unexpectedly, I thought the cover looked vaguely familiar. An orienteering friend who was Finnish, assured me it was an accurate translation. When my husband and I visited Helsinki, I happened to see my second Finnish translated YA novel Kendall, Mim and Temporary Fred (Hodder) in a bookshop window. To think of Finns in an icy climate buying my story which was set in sunny, rural Australia, was a great thrill, but a story has to happen somewhere.

My Japan translated There's a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake has been useful in Australian schools where many teach Japanese as a second language. That's also how the informal "Chinese" translations occurred. Many Australian schools wanted the children's favourite books translated and since many schools now teach Mandarin or have ESL (English as a second language) classes, the picture books were popular. Glendal Primary often gave Chinese translations of my books to visiting Chinese educators with whom they had international exchanges.

When I visited China, my Stickybeak (Penguin) picture book about a duck which is a school pet was translated by the Shanghai Educational Publishing house. Taking ducks to Beijing in a culture where ducks are eaten rather than kept as class pets was a new perspective. When I visited Boston, I found that I was having to "translate" Australian colloquialisms like "stickybeak" which means a "Nosy Parker" for the American students.

In the French translations, the issue of whether it is for French speakers elsewhere or children in France arises in the translation of words like "sandwich". A sandwich is a normal school lunch for Australian children, but it is not a big meal like an American Sandwich with side salads, while a French child would have a cooked lunch. Since food is the sex of children's books, it must be translated appropriately.

Although my stories have been used by children studying French in Australia they have not yet been translated in France.

Now I am literary mentor to Karen, a legally blind author, and I'm convinced that any translation provides insight into another culture, especially Braille.

**Hazel Edwards is the award-winning author of over 100 children's books, including There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake (Hodder Headline UK), Stalker, Duty Free (Lothian) and Fake ID (Lothian). A frequent public speaker, Edwards also writes adult non-fiction, teacher educational material, junior and adolescent fiction and scripts. Her work has been translated into Finnish, Braille, Japanese and Chinese. She lives in Australia.

Just in Case...You Visit the Children's Court created with Michael Salmon is a new venture into factual cartoon style books. In 2001, Hazel was the writer-in-residence in Antarctica at Australia's Casey Station. You can visit her website at hazeledwards.com.

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