Books from other cultures are eye-opening for young people and can change their lives! But if they are in another language, children would miss out if they weren't translated. 
This month, Words & Pictures interviews award-winning translator Claire Storey. She discusses how she got into her career, as well as the difficult decision of which books to choose for her work.

How did you come to know German and Spanish? (And why those two in particular?)


Claire: I learnt French and German at school. When I finished my A-Levels I was selected as a participant for the Rotary Youth Exchange Programme and spent a year living with host families and attending high school in Saltillo in northern Mexico. When I came back from Mexico, I went to the University of Wales, Bangor to study languages. As part of that course, I spent a year on the Erasmus programme, studying one semester in Innsbruck, Austria and the next in Valladolid, Spain. I also worked for a summer on the Costa Brava. My languages have given me so many opportunities to travel and meet people!

As a teenager, Claire spent a year in Saltillo, Coahuila state, Mexico

Is one of your languages much easier for you?


I'm not sure I would say one is easier, but I still feel that I learnt them differently. Learning German in the classroom involved memorising lots of tables — cases, adjective endings — and when I'm composing emails, I can feel myself thinking back to some of that rote learning. With my Spanish, I learnt it on the ground; from day one, I lived it with host families and school friends. On a speaking level, Spanish seems to flow more easily, but then I learnt it orally. It was only afterwards that I got to grips with grammar and more formal language structures. From a translation perspective, I enjoy both and don't find that it makes a huge difference.


Why did you become a translator?


After university, I fell into a job in export. At that stage I didn't want to be a translator, and after a gap year and a four-year course, I wanted to get out into the working world and earn some money! While I didn’t exactly love the role, I did enjoy using my languages every day, switching between writing an email in one language to answering the phone in another. Five years later, my husband and I started a family and I decided to become a stay-at-home parent. During that time, I started private tutoring — it worked around my responsibilities at home. But as my children started school, the tutoring didn't fit quite so well anymore, so I started looking around to see what else I could do. That's when I decided to retrain in translation, and I enrolled for a Masters in Translation Studies. I was a part-time, distance-learning student, and I started the course when my daughter had just turned two. She would nap at lunchtime, and I would run to the computer and work until she woke up, and then hit the office again once both kids were in bed — it was pretty intense!   


What got you interested in translations for children?


My plan was always to be a commercial translator — I was going to work for agencies and it was going to be really flexible to work around the family. However, as part of my MA, our tutor, Ben Dawlatly, presented us first with a children's picture book and then with an extract from an adult novel. I fell in love. I have always enjoyed reading and when I was little, I'd dreamed of becoming an author, so suddenly to be able to bring these two passions together — languages and books — was a bit of a revelation. I decided to centre my final-year extended translation on a Spanish middle grade book. Having read so much at home with the kids, it felt really familiar and comfortable to make the move to not just reading but also working with children’s books.


Last year you received funding from Arts Council England. Could you tell us a little about the grant and why you decided to apply?

I applied for a grant under the Developing Your Creative Practice programme (DYCP). Having completed my Masters, and with both children at school, I was working to establish myself in the translation community. I had some successes with a couple of journal publications for translated extracts — one of them from a YA novel — and I was shortlisted for two German-language translation competitions for emerging translators. Thanks to Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Marcia Lynx Qualey [editors: both interviewed in Words and Pictures! Click on their names to read], I also became involved with World Kid Lit.

All of this helped me to find my feet within the translation community and in 2020, I signed the contract for my debut full-length novel translation — Me, In Between by Julya Rabinowich — which was published by Andersen Press in January 2022. 

But while I had started to feel comfortable within the translation community, I realised I needed to take my work to the next stage and begin approaching more commissioning editors. As translators, particularly in the early stages, we are often expected to put in a lot of unpaid leg work in scouting for suitable books, preparing pitches and translation samples, with no guarantee of success. During the pandemic and subsequent home-schooling experiences, my work had taken a back seat. One day, as I was contemplating how to get things back on track, I came across the website of an initiative here in Derby called Mainframe. They offer support to creative and digital businesses in this area. Prior to this, I hadn’t really considered myself a 'creative business', but looking around their website, it began to dawn on me that this is what we are. From there, I followed a link which led to another link which led to the Arts Council England website.

The DYCP programme is about improving and honing your own skills as a creative practitioner, but also about developing networks, which is exactly the combination I wanted to pursue. I put together a project plan, itemising each individual step I would need to do to create pitches and present them to publishers. ACE are very clear about including payment to yourself for time spent on research. I was able to include hours to research markets both in the UK and abroad, time to read potentially suitable books as well as the time to actually translate lengthy samples and construct comprehensive presentations. I also included expenses to enable me to attend the book fairs in Bologna and London, also covering childcare costs. 

The Bologna Children's Book Fair in its 50th year in 2013

A large part of the project, and possibly one of the most enjoyable aspects, has been the opportunities to connect with other people. With the backing of ACE, I was able to approach more experienced colleagues and ask them to talk to me, knowing I could offer to pay them for their time and expertise. For each of the books I chose, I was able to ask for and receive feedback, giving me opportunities to improve my own skills as a translator. I’m so grateful for all the advice and support — there is so much goodwill within the kidlit community.

Your project focuses on Young Adult Literature from Latin America. Why did you choose that as your focus? 

At World Kid Lit, we are really keen to expand the spotlight on translated literature, moving to include more countries and languages spoken outside Western Europe. Our yearly list of publications suggests that the large majority of books for younger readers that are published in translation originate in that region. So when I was putting my project ideas together, it felt natural to try and focus my attention beyond our European shores. I had also learnt my Spanish in Mexico, so to a certain extent, it felt a little like coming home. While there has recently been a handful of picture books emerging in English translation from Latin America, during my research and subsequent conversations with Lawrence Schimel and Daniel Hahn, it transpired that only one young adult novel from Spanish-speaking Latin America has been published in English in the last five years, and that was in the USA. There is one further YA graphic novel due for release in the US in May this year, but nothing has been published directly in the UK!

How did you go about selecting the books you have included?

I started off looking for information about books and authors that had won awards or recognition in their own countries. I also went through publications like the White Ravens catalogue published by the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany, which recommends international books for children and young people. Another organisation I looked at was the Miami-based Cuatrogatos Foundation, which presents annual awards to books from across the Spanish-speaking Americas. 

The International Youth Library outside Munich is the largest such library in the world. It's in a castle!

Most publishers were happy to send me PDF versions of their books for consideration, and this has created new connections for me. From there, I spent a lot of the summer of 2021 reading. My first consideration was whether I enjoyed the book. Knowing I would be spending a lot of time with the books, I had to like them. Secondly, I was looking for a range of different stories and styles. As well as giving me the opportunity to present these books, the project has been a chance to challenge myself with different types of books and to showcase what I can do as a translator. 

I also wanted to push the boundaries around some of our preconceived ideas about young adult literature from Latin America. We often hear that a book from a different country should give us a flavour of that country, or deal with the issues and struggles facing those communities. I would argue that while these elements are important, we can also simply enjoy good books that happen to have been written elsewhere. 

Where are you with the project now? And what happens next?

I have now finished preparing the presentations and samples. As this post goes to Words & Pictures, I will be busy packing my bags for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. It’s an exciting time! This week I have launched a new page on my website with all the details about the books. Now it’s time to attend the book fairs in Bologna and London and begin sharing the results of the project with publishers and editors.

While these presentations are about specific books, I also hope that this project, and the connections I have made through it, will have a longer-term impact on my work. Breaking into literary translation can be really hard. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t considered walking away at times. One of the reasons I haven’t, is the support of the World Kid Lit community. The other is this project. It is heartening to know that ventures such as this are supported by ACE.

I really hope that other people reading this who are perhaps struggling will consider exploring the opportunities that are available for funding.


Claire Storey is a British translator who translates from Spanish and German.

Claire's website:

On Twitter: @ClaireStorey16 on Twitter

The WorldKitLit site is a fantastic resource for learning about other cultures and their books.

On Twitter: @worldkidlit

On Instagram: @worldkidlit


The Wild Ones (Salvajes) by Antonio Ramos Revillas

A coming-of-age novel about the fight against poverty in northern Mexico amid societal prejudice and lawless gangs.

The Darkness of Colours (La oscuridad de los colores) by Martín Blasco

A historical thriller based on a chilling social experiment, set in turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires.

Never Tell Anyone Your Name (Nunca digas tu nombre) by Federico Ivanier

An unusual second-person narrative with an unexpected fantasy twist, about a Uruguayan boy who finds himself in an unfamiliar European city with eight hours to kill.

Glazes (Veladuras) by María Teresa Andruetto

A short literary novel about a young indigenous woman who recounts the tragic events in her life, her struggles with her mental health and how she has learnt to heal.

Picture credits

Logo by Jess Stockham

Bologna Book Fair photo on Wikimedia Commons

International Youth Library image on Wikipedia 

Cover of Salvajes by Miguel Venegas Geffroy

Cover of Oscuridad by Valeria Bisutti

Cover of Nunca Digas Tu Nombre by Florencia Gutman
Cover of Veladuras by Juana Luján

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