This review and interview also appears on the World Kid Lit Blog.
Today I am reviewing a book called ‘The Flops’. It was written by Delphine Durand and translated from French by Sarah Klinger and Delphine Durand (Enchanted Lion).
This book is such good fun. The protagonists of the book are fictional creatures called the Flops. The book is written a style reminiscent of a science textbook, telling us all we need to know about the species. In “The Basics”, we are presented to the Classic Flop, or Flopus Classicus. We are told how to identify flops, their different breeds and how distinguish them from non-flops.
The illustrations are bright and colourful with so much to look at on each page. The text is dotted around the page in different fonts, sometime typeset, sometimes handwritten. For reluctant readers, this is so great. With the text in small chunks you’re not faced with long, potentially overwhelming passages of prose.
I definitely think the success of a book can be told by the effect on the reader. I presented the Flops to my nine-year-old son. He enjoys reading but often sticks to what he knows and likes. This book is now sitting by his bed and he loves dipping into it. I’ve heard him giggling to himself on the sofa and then he calls me over to share a funny bit. One morning when my son had left the Flops out, I also found it on my six-year old daughter’s bed, open at the page with all the different flops. She’d been having a great time flicking through and couldn’t wait to tell me all about it.
As I read through the pages, looking at it as a translator, I was struck how challenging and fun this must have been to work on. I got in touch with translator Sarah Klinger to find out more about the process.
How did you come across The Flops?
Claudia Bedrick, publisher at Enchanted Lion Books, offered to let me translate this masterpiece, and I was thrilled when she did. It’s a work that I wish I had written myself! A hilarious anthropology textbook with very sophisticated napkin doodles as illustrations. Basically my dream book. I feel so lucky that I got to work on it.
The FLOPS is one of those books that’s ridiculous in a great way. There’s loads of wordplay in it: “the FLOP is flexible”, “the FLOP is unflappable”, “the FLOP is flippant”, and at one point the FLOP even says “Flip off”. With all that in mind, the name “The FLOPS” seems ingenious. How did you arrive at this solution? Were there any other names and solutions that you considered?
Thank you for saying that– it took us a long time to land on ‘Flops!’ The literal translation of ‘Mou’ (the French name) is actually ‘soft,’ and for a long time the working title of this book was ‘Softies.’ But something soft is often something sweet, and Flops are more silly and mischievous than they are sweet. So we opted for something that is still soft in texture but clumsier and less reliable. Also, every time I typed the word ‘Flopette’ I couldn’t help but giggle.
The text is all over the place, at angles on the page, in speech bubbles, different fonts are used in different places. How did you deal with all that when translating it and still ensure that the publisher got the correct section of text in the right place?
Delphine Durand did all of the hand lettering for the translation, and she speaks excellent English. I agree that the layout might have been very challenging for someone who was not aware of where the text was meant to go.
Were there any other challenges in the book?
The biggest challenge was translating jokes that rhymed or were puns in French. But it was also the most rewarding part. I think I’m proudest of the translations that are the most absurd, like ‘Floppy Joe,’ and ‘Philip Flop.’ I love those guys! Just a couple of casual buddies…
The author, Delphine Durand, is also named as having translated the book with you. How did this work?
Delphine is an excellent English speaker, and we worked closely with her on each draft of the translation. The humor is all very intentional, so it was invaluable to have her clarify what she truly meant to say in some of the interactions between the Flops. It was pleasure to work with her and with Claudia, who put in countless hours as well. I still can’t believe I got to spend my time thinking about how to moisturize a Flop and call it ‘work.’
You are also an illustrator and designer. Do you feel drawn more to children’s illustrated books and are you working on any more fun projects at the moment?
Absolutely. I find children’s books to be the most beautiful and complex of all, especially because illustration is my greatest love. On the design side, I’m currently working on two books for Enchanted Lion. The first, “What is a River?” is written and illustrated by Monika Vaicenavičienė, and the second, “Drawing on Walls,” is written by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Josh Cochran. They’re really different books, but each time I open the files and look at the art, I feel such joy. As I said, I am so lucky! Otherwise, I am working on an illustrated book of my own, about a bear who is desperate for ice cream (basically a book about my two year old son).
My nine-year-old son’s favourite FLOP is the “long-haired FLOP”. I love the Flop trying to wear a necklace. Which one is your favourite FLOP?
I think you both have excellent taste. It’s so hard to decide! The Flop who becomes a couch potato from too many potato chips always makes me smile. Otherwise, I agree that the ‘long-haired Flop’ is fantastic. Something about how the part in his hair extends all the way down to his butt! (Or, as the Flop himself would describe it, his derrière!)
With thanks to Sarah and also to Claudia at Enchanted Lion for the review copy.