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Case Study 5: University of East Anglia Workshop


The workshop aimed to look at specific ‘inclusive’ titles, discovered in the first RtW project, to see how they worked in translation, particularly in terms of terminology, what might or might not be acceptable in the UK and portrayal of disabled characters, particularly in terms of the writing and story. 

This was to be a one-off session without an ongoing project.


This workshop was designed for students of translation and children’s literature to allow them to explore and think about what terminology is appropriate in terms of portraying disabled characters in books as it might not be something they would come across in their studies. OIW felt it was important to give students the opportunity to take part in a workshop with a translator and look at some of the books OIW had identified.

The Books

Lorenzo’s Saucepan (El Cazo de Lorenzo)
Isabelle Carrier
(editions in Spanish, French and Italian)

Lorenzo’s has to drag a saucepan round with him wherever he goes. Often he finds himself in difficult situations and sometimes people don't understand him. A quirky book with a metaphorical approach to how we can each learn to cope with our own specific challenges.

Zitti’s Cake Shop (La pasticceria Zitti)
Rosa Tiziana Bruno, ills. Ambra Garlashcelli
La Margherita Edizioni, 2011
Language: Italian

Zitti’s Cake Shop explores the extraordinary properties of food as a form of communication because understanding does not always need words.

Lorenzo’s Saucepan and Zitti’s Cake Shop were both included in OIW’s research. (Key Findings 4.8 Translation challenges; Case Studies: 5.6 and 5.7 of Reading the Way: Inclusive Books from Around the World, 2015)

The University

The University of East Anglia, Norwich.


As the nature of the workshop was to focus on translation it was important to have a translator running the session.  Daniel Hahn is an award-winning translator and editor who has translated several children’s book titles.


Date:   1 February 2017.
Participants:  Ten MA students of translation; BA students of children’s literature and Dr Epstein, Lecturer in Literature and Translation.
Length:  60 minutes.


Daniel Hahn introduced the RtW2 project and explained that problems can arise in terms of translation, particularly when it comes to ‘inclusive’ books. It is important to find ways of bringing books with an inclusive message into the UK and the English language and he asked the students – “what might be problematic and why?

Students: “Not what people are used to; the way it is presented”.

Daniel identified two issues: the first is cultural expectation (and what is seen to be acceptable) and the second relating to language and what words we are comfortable using.

The story of Zitti’s Cake Shop was read out and the pdf English version was shown on a large screen.

The student’s attention was drawn to what might be problematic with the translation of the book with some general observations:

  • There is an overall message in the book
  • Takes a while to get there
  • Does not tell you that Mr Zitti cannot hear or speak
  • The message is delicately done and is a positive one about a disabled character.
  • The character has agency, he has power, he has a special gift and contributes in a way that no one else can do in society

The Translation:

Daniel explained the background to the problems of translating the word/name ‘Zitti’. 

The word "zitti" in Italian means "be quiet!" or just "quiet" as a plural adjective The word’s popular use – "Zitti!" yelled by countless parents and teachers would be familiar to any child or classroom. Although 'Zitti' can be a surname in Italy the author confirmed to OIW that she intended to have a subtle reference to 'silence' in the title.

A series of questions and observations were posed:

  • Would it be possible to use the equivalent meaning in English, and if so, what would be the problems attached to this?
  • By not translating the title would the spirit of the book be kept, bearing in mind that it’s mainly positive and inclusive?
  • Would a constant reinforcement of Zitti’s disability make it slightly aggressive and a potentially negative way of talking about him?

A translator/publisher might have a problem with this. By keeping the Italian name ‘Zitti’ there is no negative reinforcement.

  • If there is negative reinforcement in the original why is it the job of the translator to soften this?

Students: “Sales and audience”.

  • Is it the job of the translator to worry about this? Should they make language palatable by using the kind of words we are comfortable with?

The workshop then moved on to exploring Lorenzo’s Saucepan.

Daniel asked what the students thought about the book.  They did not feel entirely convinced by the story.  He suggested that the book does not specify autism, it could be many other things.  The disability is presented as a misfortune, Lorenzo ended up this way, he is different from everyone else, but he is a good artist.

The students were asked if they liked the fact that the disability is not specified or whether they would prefer to be led at the beginning and know that it is a book trying to talk about autism or specific disability. Perhaps if it was read with a child, without saying anything, those problems wouldn’t arise so it’s partly a question of how you have a conversation about it.

Lorenzo is taught to live with his saucepan.

Lorenzo becomes happy again.
She makes him a satchel for his saucepan.
The saucepan is still there,
but it is much more discreet.”

One example of an issue with the English translation of Lorenzo’s Saucepan might be where it refers to Lorenzo’s problem as ‘discreet’.  In all three editions the word – discrète (French); discreto (Italian) and discreto (Spanish). This might imply that as long as you can hide the disability it is fine. 

Daniel explained that what is very different from the ‘Zitti’ book is that it’s everyone else that has a problem with him – they are awkward and embarrassed, but there’s absolutely nothing negative about the way Mr Zitti is portrayed or his role in the story.

‘Lorenzo’ is very different; his job is somehow to try and hide it (the disability) as much as possible and as long as he can make people not notice and forget it’s there, this is the thing to aspire to which is  completely the opposite of what the first book is doing.  If you can put a brave face on and not let people realise what the problem is.

The issue is about what the expectations of people in society are of you.  It doesn’t mean that you simply conform and are able to do the same things, neither more or less, which is one of the reasons for focusing partly, not just on the characters and the people around them and how they treat them is one of the most interesting things about both books. You have to find a way of functioning in the world but it doesn’t mean everyone has to overcome the same issues or end up the same in order to end up acceptable.

If you are a translator, what do you do? Perhaps change ‘discreet’ to ‘manageable’ which is more ambiguous.

There are also other things that constrain you – illustrations. Often words cannot be changed because of the pictures. There are lots of reasons why a metaphor is useful. ‘Lorenzo’ could be used for children with PTSD, autism or depression so it can be relatively open-ended and allows people to find whatever challenges they share and to find a way of relating to those then the illustrations can be problematic.

It’s important to be as non-specific as possible without being vague but the images are quite strong with clear single action vignettes. For all the problems discussed, the fact that it is not specifically about – all read and think it’s different, I think is one of its strengths but you then have a problem, partly because of the pictures.

Daniel talked briefly about the different titles of ‘Lorenzo’ and the fact that the French and Italian version rhyme but the Spanish version does not.  They also all changed the name to be culturally familiar to their readers.  How would the rhyming titles be translated in English?

Student Feedback:

I thought the idea of creating more diverse children’s books surrounding disability was a really nice idea, and an important topic for development.

I really liked that we covered books in a mix of languages, and tackled not only translation issues but broader social ones as well. I'd recommend it not only to translators but educators too. ” 

I found it immensely interesting to consider various translation issues that arise in translating of children's literature, especially when dealing with the theme of representing disabilities and "otherness", if you like. It's extremely important work to end taboos and stigmatising representation of these issues, so it was enlightening to ponder questions such as:

  • to what extent is it the translator's responsibility to censor or "soften" the content for the target culture?
  • how does one deal with degrading and stigmatising terms and/or notions, even in fiction?
  • what are my own 'boundaries' as a translator?

Really enjoyed the session and found it inspiring for my dissertation!

Dr BJ Epstein:Danny was very engaging, as always, and managed to both be informative and to get the students involved. Many students who attended told me later that they'd learned a lot and gotten some new ideas.



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