Competition Celebrates German Children’s Book Translators

In Feature Articles by Hannah Johnson

Growing interest in German children’s books led to a translation competition to identify up-and-coming translators. Here we announce the top translators and highlight the importance of publishing translated children’s books.
A selection of books from the 2016 German Children's Books on Tour collection, recommended for translation into English by the German Book Office New York

A selection of books from the 2016 German Children’s Books on Tour collection, recommended for translation into English by the German Book Office New York

By Hannah Johnson | @hannahsjohnson

The German Book Office New York (GBO) and Publishing Perspectives are proud to announce Matthew Anderson as the winner of the 2016 Children’s Books on Tour NYC Translation Competition, and Rebecca Heier as the runner-up. The competition was organized to identify talented, up-and-coming translators of German children’s books.

The jury—Riky Stock (Director, GBO New York); Daniel Slager (Publisher and CEO, Milkweed Editions, and German-to-English translator); and Hannah Johnson (Publisher, Publishing Perspectives)—wrote of the winning translation:

“We were very pleased with the quality of the submissions we received, and it wasn’t easy to choose a winner. Matthew Anderson’s translation stood out to us as the most faithful and fluid interpretation of the original German text.

“We were looking for translators who successfully communicated the meaning of the original text, but the deciding differentiator was the fluidity of the English text.

“We liked the colloquial feel of Anderson’s translation. The solutions he found to some of the tricky German phrases resulted in smooth, fluid English.”

Read Anderson’s winning translation here.

Special mention was also given to translations submitted by Tyler Langendorfer, Elisabeth Lauffer, and Juliane Schicker/Briannon Carlsen.

wenn-mein-mond-deine-sonne-wreCompetition participants were given an excerpt of Wenn mein Mond deine Sonne wäre by Adreas Steinhöfel (for rights information, contact Carlsen Verlag) to translate from German into English. The competition received a total of 41 submissions.

“After Germany’s Guest of Honor presentation at the Bologna Book Fair this year and our most recent children’s books editor’s trip in June, we realized that this was overdue,” said Stock of the competition.

“Especially with picture books, I can see a potential for the English-language market that still needs to be explored.”

“I think it’s fantastic that children’s books are starting to come into the conversation now, too,” said Lauffer, one of competition’s top five translators. “We bemoan the lack of works in translation in the market overall, which is of course legitimate, but let’s work on educating the new generation of readers to become more open-minded to international literature.”

Winner: Matthew Anderson
Matthew Anderson, winner of the 2016 German Children's Book Translation Competition

Matthew Anderson, winner of the 2016 Children’s Books on Tour NYC Translation Competition

When asked about the challenges of translating children’s books, Anderson said, “For me, the most difficult aspect of translating children’s books is finding the appropriate tone for the target audience. Adults often talk to (and about) children quite differently across cultures, and what may sound pleasantly paternal in one language may come across as excessively patronizing in another.”

Anderson is a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in Germanic Studies at the University of Texas. His dissertation is on “the impact of illustration on the development of the adolescent adventure novel in nineteenth-century Germany.”

Runner-up: Rebecca Heier
Rebecca Heier, runner-up in the translation competition

Rebecca Heier, runner-up in the translation competition

Heier believes that both translators and publishers should work together to decide how best to handle cultural references in children’s books. “How much of a foreign feel do we want to keep in a story, especially one meant for children?” she asks. “Names of TV programs, local celebrities, food brands—the list is long.”

Heier was born, raised, and educated in the United States but has been living in Germany since 1992. She has an MFA in Literary Translation and was selected to participate in New Books in German’s Emerging Translators program. Her translations have been published in various online journals.

Discussing Children’s Books in Translation

The top five translators will be recognized tonight (December 1) at an event in New York City, “Children’s Books on Tour.” Competition jury member Daniel Slager will be joined by Emily Clement, editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, for an onstage discussion about editing, publishing, and translating children’s books. A networking reception for editors and translators will follow.

In a short interview with Publishing Perspectives on publishing translations, Slager said, “I think diversity of perspectives is very important in any publishing program. I also think international books and authors represent an excellent opportunity for American publishers of books for young readers.”

Slager also pointed out the larger role that translators can play in terms of recommending international titles to publishers: “I would recommend that translators identify work they admire and feel strongly about, and then pitch it to American publishers themselves, or work with the originating publishers to do so. I often receive the best submissions from translators themselves.”

Following the discussion, the event will also showcase a selection of children’s and YA books from Germany that are suited for the American market. And further information will be available about the GBO’s upcoming Children’s Book Editors Trip to Germany (June 25 to July 1, 2017). Apply here before February 28, 2017.

To learn more about these translators, German children’s books, or the GBO Children’s Book Editor’s Trip, contact Riky Stock at the German Book Office,

About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.