Translated Children’s Fiction in New Zealand

History, Conditions of Production, Case Studies

by Anne Siebeck (Author)
©2014 Thesis 268 Pages


In 2005, a new publisher entered the New Zealand market – the first to specialise in English translations of children’s books. The notion of «homegrown translations» was a new departure for a post-colonial book market dominated for several decades by literary nationalism. This study aims to illuminate the history of translated children’s books in New Zealand and the sociocultural context in which the translations of this new publisher are produced and received in order to account for the peculiarities of marketing and reception associated with them. For this purpose, diachronic and synchronic perspectives are combined with case studies of individual books and series.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • New Zealand Children’s Literature
  • Statistical Analysis of Translated Children’s Books
  • Literary Translation in New Zealand
  • Children’s Literature Research
  • Translation Studies and Children’s Literature
  • Translation Studies and Paratext
  • Reviewing Media
  • 1 The History of Translated Children’s Literature in New Zealand
  • Method
  • 1.1 Index Translationum
  • 1.2 New Zealand Children’s Books in Print
  • 1.3 Potential Sources on Imported Translations
  • 1.4 Analysing the National Library’s Children’s Collections
  • 1.4.1 Method and Problems
  • 1.4.2 Before 1940: The Dorothy Neal White Collection
  • 1.4.3 1942–1993: The National Children’s Collection
  • Building the Collection: Selection Criteria
  • The Turning Point: The 1996 Collection Policy
  • Results: Translations from and into Māori
  • Results: Translations into other Languages
  • Translations into English Published Within New Zealand
  • Results: Source Languages of Translations into English
  • Results: Countries of Publication
  • Development over Time: Source Languages
  • Regional Patterns
  • 1.5 Trade Publishers Translating Children’s Literature into English
  • 1.5.1 Gecko Press: The Translation Process
  • 1.5.2 Gecko Press: Business Development
  • 1.5.3 The Gecko Press List
  • Source Languages
  • Translations in Print 2012, Countries of Origin
  • 2 Specific Conditions of the New Zealand Children’s Book Market
  • Method
  • 2.1 Nationalism
  • 2.1.1 Defining New Zealand Cultural Products
  • 2.1.2 Nationalising Translations
  • 2.1.3 Nationalism in Gecko Press and Book Island Marketing and Branding
  • 2.1.4 Nationalising Foreign Cultural Products: The Lord of the Rings Movies
  • 2.1.5 Consolidating Gecko’s New Zealand Image
  • 2.1.6 Conclusion
  • 2.2 The Education System, Educational Publishing and Children’s Literature
  • 2.2.1 Suitability and Readability
  • 2.2.2 Educational Publishing for Children
  • 2.2.3 Literacy Products
  • 2.2.4 Children’s Writers and Educational Publishing
  • 2.2.5 Powerful Mediators: Libraries and Schools
  • 2.2.6 Conclusion
  • 2.3 Gaps
  • 2.3.1 ‘Sophisticated’ Picture Books
  • What is a Sophisticated Picture Book?
  • Nanny Mango
  • Clubs, Billy and Uncle Jack by Kate De Goldi
  • Napoleon and the Chicken Farmer
  • Conclusion
  • 2.3.2 The Quality Gap
  • 2.3.3 Comics
  • 3 Case Studies
  • Method
  • 3.1 Case Study 1: The Pettson and Findus books
  • 3.2 Case Study 2: Ulf Stark’s My Friend Percy series
  • 3.3 Case Study 3: Duck, Death and the Tulip
  • 3.3.1 Excursus: The Depiction of Death in New Zealand Picture Books in English
  • 3.4 Case Study 4: Reflections of a Solitary Hamster
  • Conclusion
  • Discussion: Translation, Identity and Children’s Literature in New Zealand
  • References

List of Figures

Figure 1: NCC, Translations into English 1942–1993, Source Languages

Figure 2: NCC, Source languages, Scandinavian Languages Combined

Figure 3: NCC, Source Languages, Germanic Languages Combined

Figure 4: NCC, Countries of Publication of Translations into English

Figure 5: NCC, Top Three Source Languages 1940–1993

Figure 6: Gecko Press Translations in Print 2012: Source Languages ← 7 | 8 →

List of Abbreviations


Researching a recent and ongoing phenomenon necessarily means that any publication on the subject cannot reflect the latest developments. This publication is based on my PhD thesis submitted to Victoria University of Wellington in March 2013 and accepted – after the examination process – in October 2013. I have made some editorial changes and included a reference to recently published work that is crucial for the chapter on comics in New Zealand (Adrian Kinnaird’s From Earth’s End: the Best of New Zealand Comics). Apart from these changes, this book reflects the status quo at the time the thesis was submitted.

More recent developments that need to be mentioned here – although they do not affect the findings of this thesis – relate to several drastic changes in the New Zealand publishing industry that occurred in 2013. Hachette closed its New Zealand branch and HarperCollins moved distribution to Australia, reducing its list of New Zealand books significantly.1 Educational publisher Pearson also closed its New Zealand Offices. One reason given by Pearson – apart from global restructuring of the corporation – was a drop in commissions by the New Zealand Ministry of Education. This event foreshadowed another, even more profound change: the closure of state-owned educational publisher Learning Media at the end of 2013, about a year after it lost its status as preferred supplier for the Ministry of Education.2 Chapter 2.2 explains the special relationship between the educational system and the children’s literary system in New Zealand and the crucial role educational publishing – Learning Media and its School Journal in particular – has played in the development of New Zealand children’s trade fiction. The disappearance of the state-owned educational publisher is going to change the conditions of the children’s book market. However, it will be possible to observe lasting effects of this change on the conventions of literary production only after several years at least.

The expert interviews referred to throughout this book are part of the original thesis, which is deposited at the Victoria University Library. However, for legal reasons – and for reasons of space – this publication does not include the transcripts but selected quotes. Furthermore, the translation databases compiled for the thesis from the New Zealand National Library’s children’s book collections are also too large to be attached here and can be found in the appendix of the original thesis. ← 9 | 10 →

I wish to thank my supervisor Dr. Richard Millington for his support and helpful criticism and my co-supervisor Prof. Hans-Heino Ewers of the Institute for Children’s Literature Research at the J.W.-Goethe University, Frankfurt, for his knowledgeable advice.

Thanks to Victoria University for the PhD scholarship, the Von der Oelsnitz and the PhD Submission scholarship. Furthermore, I thank the Postgraduate Students’ Association (PGSA) and the Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection for their scholarships.

Due to both the international and interdisciplinary nature of my research, and the scarcity of resources on New Zealand children’s literature, this thesis would not have been possible without the contributions of a great many people. I thank the interviewees for the interesting discussions and the invaluable insights they have provided into their area of expertise: Julia Marshall, Lynne Jackett, Kate De Goldi, John and Ruth McIntyre, David Hill, and Greet Pauwelijn. I am also indebted to Kyle Mewburn, Dylan Horrocks and Tim Bollinger for sharing their professional experience.

Several National Library staff members were of great help, particularly Kevin Dallow and the librarians guarding the children’s collections, Lynne Jackett and Mary Skarott.

Meetings and email conversations with language specialists of the International Youth Library in Munich have provided further perspectives and background information on the case studies. Thanks also to staff of the Svenska barnboksinstitutet (Swedish Institute for Children’s Books) for their help.

I am most grateful to Julia van Luijk, Sally-Ann Spencer and Pam Henson both for proofreading and for keeping me sane during the final stages of completing the thesis.

I am indebted to my family, in particular my parents, who have always supported me in many ways.

Above all I thank my wonderful partner Matthias for his understanding and unflagging support. ← 10 | 11 →

1MacDonald (2013)

2Learning Media Ltd. (September 4, 2013); Shadwell (2013)


“New Publisher Brings the Best of Europe Back Home” – with this announcement, Gecko Press, an independent publisher specialised in translating children’s books into English, entered the New Zealand market in 2005.1 The headline raises a series of questions: What is “the best of Europe”? Had it not been available before? Considering the struggle faced by local children’s literature to develop because of a flood of books imported from overseas – why would New Zealand readers want translated European books? How are the translations received by readers and critics? What role does literary translation play in New Zealand’s multicultural society?

In the UK and US markets, children’s books which have been translated into English play a role that is even more marginal than that of translated books; according to Outside In, the proportion of translated books in the United Kingdom is three percent – while that of translated children’s books is one percent.2 Statistics for the US market are similar.3

In New Zealand, literary translation into English (from languages other than the country’s own minority language, Māori) has been introduced by a single publisher; the emergence and the perception of children’s literary translation into English are, therefore, closely associated with the establishment of this publisher and the process it has gone through of carving out a position for itself in the market and building its brand.

In order to describe the historical and social circumstances attendant upon the recent phenomenon of translations into English, this study adopts an inductive approach. Through a combination of diachronic and synchronic perspectives, as well as case studies of individual books and series, this thesis aims to illuminate the history and context of translated children’s books in New Zealand in order to explain the way in which locally published translations have been marketed and received by critics and customers in recent years.

The first part of the study has a quantitative orientation; it presents statistics on translated children’s books in New Zealand, and the history of literary translation in the country is examined in order to provide background and context for the recent situation. The research is guided by a series of basic hypotheses: given the very low percentage of translations in other English-speaking markets, the smallness of the New Zealand market and its consequently peripheral position in the international English-speaking market, it is likely that, until recently, ← 11 | 12 → the production of literary translations has not been viable and was, therefore, of little significance. Due to historic and economic ties, a high proportion of imports from the United Kingdom is to be expected – including translations, at least of international longsellers such as Grimm’s fairy tales. Therefore, various resources are considered to gather data on both local and imported translations. The international translation bibliography Index Translationum is consulted in order to get an overall impression of the situation of translation in New Zealand. More specific data on the translation of children’s literature is drawn from the annotated bibliography New Zealand Children’s Books in Print. In addition, the National Library’s children’s collections provide insight into the numbers and origins of imported translations. In the first part of this study, I present and analyse the results of my work with these aforementioned sources. In the final chapter of this section, the two publishers that have recently started translating children’s books into English in New Zealand are introduced: Gecko Press and Book Island. I focus on translations by Gecko Press, as Book Island only launched its first books after the case studies had been completed.

The second part of this study is concerned with issues which relate to the development of children’s literature in New Zealand and the particular conditions that influence its production and reception. The significance of the conditions in question is evident in the arguments employed in Gecko’s marketing and in observations made in the critical assessment of the translations. These indicators are followed up by investigating related discourse in critical publications on children’s literature and related fields such as literacy (mostly scholarly articles), as well as in publications by practitioners such as booksellers, authors and librarians. Judges’ reports from the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards and media discourse around these awards are also considered. Several expert interviews are conducted in order to further explore certain key aspects of translation in the New Zealand market. The interviews are attached to the original thesis deposited in the Victoria University Library.

Among the publisher’s marketing strategies, ‘nationalisation’ is identified as an especially significant feature. To put Gecko’s approach into context, a broader perspective is adopted, which takes into account both cultural policies and their influence on the so-called creative industries, as well as the role of nationalism in the development of New Zealand literature. In addition to scholarship on children’s literature, my discussion of nationalism draws on government publications (speeches, press releases, reports), as well as scholarship in the areas of publishing research, cultural studies, management and marketing research.

Other significant considerations are the publisher’s explicitly stated noneducational approach and the doubts expressed by critics regarding the suitabil ← 12 | 13 → ity of some Gecko books for the proposed target groups. The norms underlying these judgements are examined and traced back to their origins in the education system. This discussion draws primarily on literacy research, book market statistics and critical discourse on the development of New Zealand children’s literature. It outlines the importance of educational institutions and agents in the book market, the development of approaches to literacy teaching, its impact on reading materials for schools and the influence these educational materials – and the norms underlying them – have exerted on the development of children’s trade fiction in New Zealand. Interrogating these issues not only reveals the expectations which are predominant in the target culture, but also explains the origins of certain gaps in the local children’s book market, which some of the recent translations have attempted to fill. For example, children’s literature professionals have identified so-called sophisticated picture books as a gap in the New Zealand market. After examining which features characterise this subgenre, I outline why some of these features have been unlikely to develop in New Zealand due to the influence of the aforementioned conditions of production. This section is informed, on the one hand, by international picture book scholarship and, on the other, by professional discourse on New Zealand literature for young people.

Another gap in local production is professionally published comics: while an underground subculture of comics for adults has existed for decades, the comic or graphic novel format has only recently been discovered as an attractive medium by mainstream publishers. Compatible with educational purposes, comics published in recent years predominantly aim to make events of New Zealand history palatable for children and young adults. The little-researched field of New Zealand comics is examined by drawing on the only reference work published, which is non-academic, journal articles and other publications on the history of the genre, as well as interviews with New Zealand comic experts. In addition to literary features, the physical characteristics of the books and their marketing are considered in order to cover all aspects relevant to their reception in the target culture.

Whereas Parts 1 and 2 are concerned with the establishment of the historical, social and literary context of the recent translations, the third part of this study presents four case studies of children’s books and series which have recently been translated into English in New Zealand. Employing a qualitative method, the case studies examine how these translations integrate into the target literature by discussing local books with similar features; they also examine why some translations enjoy a better reception than others. The examples represent the three currently predominant source languages in the Gecko Press catalogue: German, Swedish and French. Furthermore, I have chosen books that have been received particularly well and books that have proved controversial as such ← 13 | 14 → cases are most likely to bring the norms and conventions which govern local literature to light. Two case studies feature translations from Swedish which differ significantly from one another in their critical success: one is a series of picture books which has been well-received and the other a series of chapter books which has not. The method of qualitative analysis applied in the case studies is detailed in the introduction of Part 3.

In the conclusion, the findings of this thesis are summarised. The discussion considers the results of the study in the context of the field of translation studies and discourses of identity in postcolonial and cultural studies. Finally, I reflect on its significance for research and give recommendations for further study.

In its progression from overarching context to specific case studies, the structure of this thesis is designed to account for all three levels identified by Gisèle Sapiro in her application of Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theories on the field of publishing to translation studies: the macro level of translation flows between languages, cultures and markets, the mezzo level of the agents involved in bringing works into the target culture (on this level, publishing strategies are of particular interest); and the micro level of specific translated works.4 Starting on the macro level, the first part of the study sheds light on the recent and historical situation of translation in the country, and relates this to the power structure of languages in the international market. This part concludes on the mezzo level with an introduction of the list, concept and position of Gecko Press in the national and international market. Parts 2 and 3 progress from the mezzo to the micro level; characteristics of the national children’s book market are discussed in relation to the publisher’s selection and marketing. An analysis of the marketing and reception of the chosen translations is carried out in Part 3, which “allows publishers’ strategies and their choices to be located within a broader cultural context.”5

Several terms used in the outline above need further explanation as to how they are defined for the purposes of this study. ‘Children’s literature’ in this study refers to trade books which are published for a child audience, which can include books for all ages. Books are considered to have been published for a child audience if they are published by a children’s publisher or a children’s imprint or categorised or declared to be a children’s book by the publisher (for example, by giving age recommendations). Even though the present title specifies children’s fiction, the scope has been extended in the statistical section of the thesis to encompass children’s literature in general, as not all sources distinguish between fiction and non-fiction. ← 14 | 15 →

The term ‘postcolonial’ is contested and is used in various ways with differing connotations. It can be applied – and initially was predominantly applied – in a temporal sense (in which case the word is often spelled with a hyphen) to refer to the time after the colonisation of a country, in particular from the point in time when the country has gained independence.6 This point in time, however, is sometimes difficult to determine with New Zealand because detaching from the United Kingdom politically was a process involving several steps. The term ‘postcolonialism’ is now widely used to refer to the effects of and responses to colonialism at various levels such as politics, economy, culture and sociological aspects and in particular processes of forming a cultural and/or national identity.7 It is in this sense that the term ‘postcolonial’ is used in this study.

As this thesis deals with the international exchange of children’s literature, particularly between English and European languages, it does occasionally mention ‘classics’ of children’s literature. Discussions of the term usually centre on the question of whether a normative or a descriptive approach should be applied.8 Approaches that tend towards the normative apply criteria regarding a book’s aesthetic quality and sometimes also its didactic or pedagogical value based on a certain idea of children’s literature and its purpose or task. Approaches which prioritise descriptive factors focus on a work’s status in countries or markets rather than on its intrinsic features.9 However, normative and descripttive approaches cannot always be separated, as becomes clear in a paper on ‘international classics’ by Emer O’Sullivan. “By children’s classics are generally meant,” she explains, “books that have been commercially successful over several generations in several countries. (…) Classics are books that could be called the household names of what is regarded as ‘good’ children’s literature. They are the books that are constantly reprinted in editions and series of varying size and quality.”10 O’Sullivan identifies a number of ‘international classics,’ which appear on most lists of children’s classics, such as Don Quixote, Peter Pan and Struwwelpeter. However, the status of ‘classics’ can change, O’Sullivan points out, depending on a range of factors such as social and moral values, images of childhood, literary taste, and, I would add, market dynamics. In this thesis, the term is applied in a primarily descriptive sense encompassing works that fulfil at ← 15 | 16 → least one of the following criteria: First, a ‘children’s classic’ is understood to be a story that has had long-lasting commercial success, possibly in various editions and adaptations. Second, a ‘classic’ is also understood to be a book that is generally perceived to be a classic, even if it is not in print. The second criterion applies to some New Zealand children’s books, as New Zealand titles tend not to be available over a longer period of time.11

The problematic definition of ‘national literature,’ of New Zealand literature, is crucial in the examination of the relationship between locally produced translations and the rest of local literary production for children. The notion of ‘national literatures’ as an analytical category for research, as an “explanatory model,”12 has obvious inadequacies, José Lambert has found: “Wherever political and linguistic borderlines do not coincide – and they never do – the principle of national literatures does not work.”13 ‘National literature’ usually excludes imported literature (both translated and original), oral traditions, literature in dialect and so on, as Lambert points out. In an investigation of how literature works in a particular country, of the dynamics between writing, publishing, sales, reception and the myriad other aspects of literary life within specific national boundaries, we should thus speak, for example, about literature in France or in Germany, instead of speaking about French or German literature.14

While New Zealand makes a very good example for Lambert’s point, it is not helpful to abandon the term ‘New Zealand literature’ in the context of this thesis. The tensions which underlie the process of the construction of a New Zealand national literature and its relation to national identity, the varying definitions of ‘New Zealand literature,’ the attempts to be both inclusive and exclusive, are at the heart of this study. The emergence of a new publisher which produces literary translations into English has challenged and continues to challenge the boundaries which have been painstakingly drawn to distinguish New Zealand’s ‘own literature.’ Everyone dealing with literature in New Zealand – institutions such as the Book Council, governmental and private funding bodies, award committees, producers such as writers and publishers, mediators such as reviewers, librarians and booksellers, and not least scholars – has to negotiate and define for themselves and for their particular purposes what New Zealand literature is and, no less importantly, what it is not. These negotiations are intimately tied up with questions of postcolonial national and cultural identity: what defines and distinguishes the nation? What is part of New Zealand identity? Lo ← 16 | 17 → cally produced cultural products such as literature have been ascribed the task of shaping and reflecting national identity, as Chapter 2.1 will show, and they therefore receive particular attention and support in contrast to imported products. Apart from financial support, New Zealand cultural products benefit from, and to a certain extent rely on, the publicity generated by initiatives to increase public visibility such as NZ on Air or New Zealand Book Month, as well as separate displays in shops and special treatment by reviewing media. Belonging to the ‘inside,’ to this artificial, shifting space of ‘New Zealandness,’ is thus crucial for any commercial and cultural undertaking. This thesis deals with the integration of translations into this perceived ‘inside’ with regard to their promotion and reception, as opposed to the vast number of ‘merely’ imported books which are excluded from this national perspective – even though more than half of New Zealand publishers’ revenue derives from the sale of imports.15 The difference between the treatment and perception of imports and locally produced translations becomes obvious, for example, in the national children’s literature bibliography, New Zealand Children’s Books in Print, where translations are listed, but imports are not. New Zealand literature, in the context of this thesis, is therefore understood to be literature promoted and received as New Zealand literature – a definition that allows scope for argument about whether books translated in New Zealand can be considered to belong to New Zealand literature.

The definition of ‘translation’ adopted here is based on translation scholar Gideon Toury’s concept of assumed translations; that is, a published book is understood to be translated if it can be assumed that it is based on an earlier published source text in another language (source-text postulate) because a book is presented and/or regarded to be a translation. Toury emphasises that the factual existence of a source text is not relevant:

Concrete texts in languages other than the target’s are not part of the necessary equipment for launching research […]: even if none is used, the study will still pertain to Translation Studies as long as the assumptions of their temporal pre-existence and logical priority are taken into account.16

He therefore considers even pseudo translations to be legitimate objects of study in translation studies: “Until the mystification has been dispelled, the way they function within a culture is no different from the way genuine translations do.”17


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (September)
Kinderliteratur Übersetzungen Nationalismus Marktlücken
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 268 pp., 7 coloured fig., 1 table

Biographical notes

Anne Siebeck (Author)

Anne Siebeck studied German Literature, English Literature and Education at the J.W.-Goethe University of Frankfurt. She received her doctorate in Literary Translation Studies from the Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) for the thesis this book is based on.


Title: Translated Children’s Fiction in New Zealand