An international affair with children’s literature – Monterey Herald

World Kid Lit is an international community service organization based in the UK, whose initiative aims to increase diversity in English-language publishing, in order to give a fairer representation of our multicultural and multilingual world.

Launched as a grassroots social media initiative in 2016, World Kid Lit Month, throughout the month of September, is dedicated to celebrating world literature for children and young people, focusing on fiction, non- fiction and poetry translated into English from other languages. Throughout the month, authors and educators discuss why it’s worth venturing beyond books published in the United States and how to access books published elsewhere.

Among the many benefits of introducing young people to world literature is the opportunity to learn about places and perspectives outside of their own, creating the potential for a more global perspective. Additionally, those who translate children’s books from their published language into English are part of a dynamic co-writing that explores culture, syntax, semantics, and interpretation.

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Artist, illustrator and author Janet Whitchurch has translated six or seven children’s books from Russian into English. Although she grew up and raised her children in Menlo Park, majored in art at Stanford, and later taught art history and studio art at Sacred Heart Schools in ‘Atherton, the Monterey resident is a self-proclaimed Russian-speaker, who speaks and reads Russian. .

“It may be a difficult time to talk about a love of Russia,” she acknowledged. “But the intrigue and the attraction for me started when I was young. I’m 79 now. As a child, I had terrible asthma, which required bed rest. And so, I read. A lot.

At 12, Whitchurch was browsing her parents’ library when she came across Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. Her love of history and of Tolstoy then brought her to “War and Peace”. And then to Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”.

Then she began to study Russian.

“I continued to take Russian classes at Stanford,” she said. “I didn’t specialize in it, but I was dedicated to it. My classes were filled with Russian émigrés because revolutionary and author Alexander Kerensky was on campus. It was like a living history lesson.

Whitchurch tackled Russian poet, playwright and novelist Alexander Pushkin’s 1835 verse fairy tale, “The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish”, and independently published a bilingual translation of the tale, which she also illustrated.

“For a native English reader,” she says, “Russian has an interesting way of using past and present. My editor wanted me to translate the tale to past tense, but Pushkin went between past and present. , and changing that would have muddled the story. So, I honored its structure.

In 2006 Whitchurch had the opportunity to travel to Russia, mainly to St. Petersburg and Moscow. She was thrilled to find out how well she could navigate the native language.

“I have such a close emotional and intellectual attachment to the language,” she said. “It’s so descriptive, which is why, I believe, there are so many Russian poets and writers. It was actually an oral language until 1700, when Peter the Great developed it into a written language, based on Latin grammar and the Greek alphabet.

Whitchurch is currently translating what she found to be a beautiful, long fairy tale.

Read Russian, write English

When not translating children’s texts, Whitchurch primarily reads Russian novels, which helps her maintain language and has taught her how much a reader can get out of a book by reading slowly, absorbing the language. and story, instead of skimming through the text or “swallowing it.

She also worked on her own book, “Running North and Underground: the Salinas River,” which she independently published in 2018. A picture book with extensive captions, the book explores the twists and turns of the legendary river and valley de Salinas, which has been the source and subject of many local traditions over the years.

“My Salinas River book was inspired by a wonderful book,” Whitcomb said, “written in the 1800s by two Swiss men who explored the Mississippi River and recorded their sightings and feelings. I begin at the source of the river and the chronicle to the mouth, where it joins the sea.”

Perhaps her favorite book is based on a story she told her little boy over breakfast in 1968 and finally illustrated and published in 2020. Fart-Powered Flight” was conceived at a time, says Whitchurch, where writing about farts was unacceptable. While current dictionaries tend to disagree on the relevance of the word, admittedly, more clinical or polite terms simply don’t work with its illustrations.

Janet Whitchurch’s books are available through River House Books at The Crossroads Carmel.

Lucas E. Kelly