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Matinee Blog

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Three of the most popular works of children’s fiction (in translation)

Not many people realise just how many of their favourite children’s stories originally started life in another language. Countless people have listened to their favourite bedtime story without realising the author was writing in a completely different language. But the best children’s books have appeal that stretches across boundaries of culture and language.

Here are three books that you may have read and enjoyed, countless times, without realising you’ve never read the original.

The Miffy books by Dick Bruna
If you see a picture of the little white bunny in an orange dress with an X for a mouth, you’ll instantly remember it from numerous picture books and playgroup wall displays from your childhood. First published in 1955, Miffy went on to appear in over thirty picture books and even her own movie. So it may surprise you to hear that her original name is Nijntje, short for “konijntje”, the Dutch for “little rabbit”. If you want to watch the film in its original language, it’ll have a Dutch voice over, but the stories have also appeared in another forty languages.

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint Exupery
Even if you’ve never read this book before, you’ll know the cover image. The little boy standing on top of a tiny moon is one of the most iconic images in children’s fiction. Looking at the illustration style, it’s not hard to guess that originally this story started its life in French. However, slightly more surprising is the fact that it has been translated into other languages over 180 times!

The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Most people remember this story from their childhood because of the sheer terror of watching children transform into donkeys in the Disney version, but before the cartoon Pinocchio was singing “I got no strings” this was an Italian story serialised over 1881 and 1882 by a writer in Florence, Italy.

Since then, the story has been taken to heart all over the world, being translated into more than 240 languages around the globe, with everything from English to Japanese to Dutch voice-overs telling the story, making it the most translated book in history.

Can you suggest any more children’s fiction that started its life in another language?