TRANSLATION Lyn Miller-Lachmann

In our series of interviews with children's book translators, translators explain just what goes into their work. This month's interview is with Lyn Miller-Lachmann, who has a new translation coming out from Portuguese.

What made you interested in translating this particular book?

The editor of The President of the Jungle, Nancy Paulsen, approached me to translate it as soon as she acquired the rights. She was the editor of my 2013 middle-grade novel, Rogue, and while Rogue was in production, I lived in Portugal and began to learn Portuguese. We kept in touch over the years, and she knew of the other picture books I’d translated from Portuguese, published by Enchanted Lion, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, and Charlesbridge.

I fell in love with the illustrations and text of The President of the Jungle, which had the Portuguese title of Eleição dos Bichos (Animals’ Election). It’s certainly timely, with its portrayal of a group of animals who choose to elect their president rather than continue to endure the abuses of Lion, King of the Jungle. And when Lion decides to run, things become even more interesting.

What made you interested in writing and translating in the first place?

I started out writing books for young readers, mostly for teens, and my first published novel for this age category was Gringolandia, set in Chile and among Chilean refugees in the United States during the Pinochet dictatorship. I traveled to Chile to research the book and read documents in Spanish. Knowing another language opens up a new realm of possibilities, and it has enabled me to bring what I find to readers who don’t know the language. My writing has fed my translation and vice versa; for instance, the research I did to help me translate a picture book from Portugal that came out in 2017, Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World), led in part to my writing a YA novel that’s coming out in fall 2021.

[In] translating a picture book ... typically the text undergoes a process of transformation, far more than in a book for adult readers.

What were the hardest parts to translate?

Translating a picture book is not a word-for-word process, and typically the text undergoes a process of transformation, far more than in a book for adult readers. The reason is that young children don’t have the background that adults do in terms of understanding cultural gaps, so one has to scaffold—that is, weave the familiar into the unfamiliar. In addition, picture books in English generally have less text than those published abroad. Most English-language picture books are under 500 words in length, while it’s not uncommon in Brazil, say, to see a picture book that’s 1,500 words or more. So when I translate a book, I have to compress the text to what will hold a child’s interest and move the story forward. The President of the Jungle has about a third fewer words and eight fewer pages than the Brazilian original, and I had to maintain the major characters, turning points, and humour of the story. I’m pleased at having picked up the pace while maintaining the substance, and from the feedback I’ve received from teachers, young children are truly enjoying the animals’ first election.

What kinds of sources do you use when you don't understand what something means?

I typically do a lot of research for my translations, on the level of story and theme as well as individual words, phrases, and sentences. For instance, I found out that four author/illustrators of The President of the Jungle – André Rodrigues, Larissa Ribeiro, Paula Desgualdo, and Pedro Markun – created this book as the first in a series to improve civics education in Brazil. The fundamental debates over the survival of democracy that we’re having today parallel those that have been going on in Brazil.

On a smaller scale, I use dictionaries and look for words and phrases online for context. When I don’t know much about an aspect of the story, such as knitting in Three Balls of Wool, I ask friends who do. I happen to know many knitters!

What do you hope to translate next? What would you love to translate?

I would love to translate a picture book by an author from Lusophone [Portuguese-speaking] Africa. We have too few picture books from African authors and illustrators in general, and from the Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa – Angola, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe – none at all.


Lyn Miller-Lachmann translates children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English. Among her publications are The World in a Second; Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words; The Queen of the Frogs; Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World), a picture book co-sponsored by Amnesty International; Olive the Sheep Can’t Sleep; and The President of the Jungle. In addition, she is the author of three award-winning novels for teen readers – Gringolandia, its companion Surviving Santiago, and Rogue, with two more novels forthcoming in 2021.

Lyn's website:

Lyn on Twitter: @LMillerLachmann

On Facebook:

Picture credits

Lyn's photo: Joan Heffler

Illustration, The President of the Jungle: André Rodrigues, Larissa Ribeiro, Paula Desgualdo, and Pedro Markun

Illustrator credit for Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World): Yara Kono

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