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How Are Dr. Seuss's Books Translated?

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by Aliya Whiteley

It takes a truly gifted author to write verse as magical as the works of Dr. Seuss. Born on this day in 1904 as Theodor Seuss Geisel, the beloved author wrote more than 60 books during his lifetime, which have sold more than 600 million copies. Even today, more than a quarter-century after his passing, Dr. Seuss's books continue to sell because they entertain children (and adults) so well with their wordplay.

Many readers feel like they know Dr. Seuss from his writing, but the fact is that many of us are mispronouncing his pen name, which he described as having more of a Germanic sound. Alexander Liang, one of the author's collaborators, explained it in a handy poem:

"You're wrong as the deuce, and you shouldn't rejoice. If you're calling him Seuss, he pronounces it Soice (or Zoice)."

Does it really matter? Whether it rhymes with moose or voice only becomes an issue when you’re looking for words to accompany his name in a rhyming poem, and that’s the big problem that translators face with children’s books such as the ones written by Dr. Seuss. They rhyme brilliantly in the language in which they were constructed, but finding a way to phrase them in a different language— while still preserving their original character—is no easy job.

The Cat in the Hat was first published in 1957, and is one of the best-selling children's books of all time. The title is poetic in a number of languages:

French: Le Chat Chapeauté

Italian: Il Gatto Col Cappello

Spanish: El Gato Ensombrerado

Yiddish: Di Kats der Payats

Latin: Cattus Petasatus

Although the German version is the straightforward translation Der Kater mit Hut, the 2003 film version starring Mike Myers as the Cat had a great title in Germany: Ein Kater Macht Theater.

Horton Hears A Who! has also been made into a popular film, and its message of equality for all has been entertaining children since 1954. It is available to read in French as Horton Entend Un Zou!, and in Dutch as Horton hoort een Hun!

There's A Wocket In My Pocket! is a 1974 story of a boy who has to contend with strange creatures around his house, such as a Vug under his rug and a Noothgrush on his toothbrush. Translators have made up some wonderful sounding creatures of their own to keep the rhyme intact:

Spanish: Hay un molillo en mi molsillo!

Italian: C'è un mostrino nel taschino! 

Dutch: Er zit een knak in mijn zak!

Yertle the Turtle And Other Stories was published in 1958, and is the tale of a despotic turtle King who doesn't treat his underling turtles with respect. Geisel later stated that Yertle was based on Hitler. In Spanish he's Yoruga La Tortuga.

Perhaps the most elegant translations for a Dr. Seuss book title belong to 1960's One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, a book for younger readers:

Dutch: Visje een visje twee visje visje in de zee (translates as One fish two fish fish fish in the sea)

Chinese: Yi tiao yu, liang tiao yu, hong de yu, lan de yu

Yiddish: Eyn fish tsvey fish royter fish bloyer fish 

But the language to which One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish is an absolute gift in translation is French, where it becomes the perfectly rhyming:

Poisson un, poisson deux, poisson rouge, poisson bleu

If only all translating jobs were as simple as that.

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Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Reading Aloud to Your Kids Can Promote Good Behavior and Sharpen Their Attention
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Some benefits of reading aloud to children are easy to see. It allows parents to introduce kids to books that they're not quite ready to read on their own, thus improving their literacy skills. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the simple act of reading to your kids can also influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

Participants in VIP visited a pediatric clinic where they were videotaped playing and reading with their children, ranging in age from infants to toddlers, for about five minutes. Following the sessions, videos were played back for parents so they could see how their kids responded to the positive interactions.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn't receive the same intervention.

Reading to kids isn't just a way to get them excited about books at a young age—it's also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development. The study authors write, "Such programs [as VIP] can result in clinically important differences on long-term educational outcomes, given the central role of behavior for child learning."

Being read to is something that can benefit all kids, but for low-income parents working long hours and unable to afford childcare, finding the time for it is often a struggle. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 34 percent of children under 5 in families below the poverty line were read to every day, compared with 60 percent of children from wealthier families. One way to narrow this divide is by teaching new parents about the benefits of reading to their children, possibly when they visit the pediatrician during the crucial first months of their child's life.

[h/t The New York Times]

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