Wacky Bees and Second-hand Dogs: Translating Children's Books

Published on: 10 April 2018 Author: Louise Jordan

When I launched Wacky Bee Books in 2015 I never thought I would be publishing books in translation.

Bjarne Reuter, Elise and the Second Hand Dog, Kirsten Raagaard

This all changed last year when just before Bologna Children's Book Fair, BookTrust told me about their 'In Other Words' project. Launched in 2016, this project, funded by Arts Council England, is designed to showcase great writing from outside the UK and to help UK publishers acquire books in translation.

The project received almost 400 entries of outstanding children's fiction from around the world. This was narrowed down to eight finalists, out of which four honour titles were chosen and announced at last year's Bologna by the then children's laureate Chris Riddell.

The great thing about the In Other Words project is that the eight finalists were partially translated so that it was easy for potential publishers like myself, to get a feel for the books. Plus, thanks to BookTrust, I ended up with a great translator – Sian Mackie. And thanks must go, as well, to the Danish Arts Foundation who funded the translation of the rest of the book...something I would never have known about if I hadn't got involved in the project.

Elise and the Second Hand Dog

I was actually interested in three titles from the eight finalists – A Good Day for Climbing a Tree by Jaco Jacobs (original language Afrikaans), The Amazing Adventures of Groana Schmitt by Finn-Ole Heinrich (original language German) and Elise and the Second-hand Dog by Bjarne Reuter (original language Danish). However as a very small publisher I couldn't afford all three so I had to choose to offer on my favourite which was Elise and the Second-hand Dog.

The story is about a lonely, little girl called Elise. Elise's mum is far away in Brazil helping to finish the building of a suspension bridge in the Amazon rainforest and her dad is busy trying to get by as a musician in Copenhagen where they live. So when Elise asks for a dog to keep her company, her dad finds it hard to refuse. But the dog that Elise ends up with is no ordinary dog. He is second-hand, he looks like an ugly rabbit, he smell of cheese...and he can talk (bizarrely in a strong Scottish accent)!

I immediately knew that this book was perfect for Wacky Bee. It's quirky, funny and moving which is what I always wanted Wacky Bee books to be all about. Plus it's illustrated. All our books are illustrated regardless of target age range.

Elise and the Second Hand Dog

Our experience of publishing our first book in translation has been mostly positive. We acquired a really great book, at a reasonable rate with all the illustrations thrown in. On top of that BookTrust offset the difficulties of publicising a book where the author may not speak English and lives in another country, by offering a £1500 bursary to help with publicity. As a small publisher publicity campaigns are something that we struggle with so this was gratefully received and has meant that Elise is getting the exposure she deserves.

Of course one of the joys about publishing a book from another country is that you catch a glimpse of another world and another culture. For example I now know that the sun rarely shines where Elise lives and that salty liquorice is commonly eaten in Copenhagen as a cure for homesickness. Who knew? I also learned that some Danes – like Elise's grandparents – live in windmills. And that every Christmastime, in a place called Vesterbro, there is a Candlemas festival which is 'full of people having fun and eating burgers, shawarma, apple pancakes and pizza'. However the main thing I learned is that some subject matters transcend across countries and oceans. Elise is missing her mother and she is lonely. It doesn't matter where you live in the world to understand that.

Elise and the Second Hand Dog

There can be difficulties when it comes to editing translations as what is acceptable in one country in terms of language, may not be acceptable in another. This was certainly the case with one chapter of Elise...ironically chapter thirteen!

However for all its challenges publishing our first book in translation has been a fun and worthwhile experience and I can't wait to see the eight finalists from this year's In Other Words project.

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Check out our review

Elise and the Second-Hand Dog

Author: Bjarne Reuter Illustrator: Kirsten Raagaard Translator: Sian Mackie from Danish

Elise gets a secondhand mongrel to keep her company – and turns out, the dog's name is McAddudi and he’s from Scotland. Elise and McAddudi soon grow to become best friends. A quirky and original book that is full of laughs and heart.

Read more about Elise and the Second-Hand Dog

In Other Words


Find out more about In Other Words, our prize to promote the translation and UK publication of outstanding children's literature from around the world.

More translated children's books


If you're interested in exploring children's books in translation, these well-loved favourites and award-winning titles offer the perfect places to start.