Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Secret Lives of Princesses - An interview

After I got my review copy of The Secret Lives of Princesses, Derry Wilkens - the children's publicity manager at Sterling Books - told me that the book had an interesting story. I decided to find out a little more about the book and how it came to be published in the United States. Here is an interview that I had with Frances Gilbert, VP and Publisher for Sterling Children’s Books

1. How did Sterling end up publishing this book? What attracted you to this particular title?
I saw this book at the Hachette booth several years ago at the Bologna Book Fair. I was initially attracted by the beautiful and weird princess on the cover, then by the lush artwork in the book, and finally by the fact that the characters are all “alternative” princesses. The book is a work of art – and a refreshing new look at the world of princesses.

2. I understand the authors and illustrators are French and that the book had to be translated into English for this edition. Was it hard to do the translation?
The translation and editing process was intense! Interestingly, our manager of foreign rights at Sterling, Toula Ballas, translated the book. Toula is one of those fabulous Europeans who put us all to shame by being fluent in a dozen languages. And, of course, she is extremely well-read and knows a great deal about children’s books. It was such fun to work with my brilliant colleague Toula in an entirely new capacity. She provided a “straight” translation with copious detailed notes about the French idioms and word play. It wasn’t until we had the entire book translated that Toula and I realized we would have to heavily rewrite many passages, as the French references simply didn’t translate to English. It was more like working with poetry in translation than with prose, and certainly the most challenging and rewarding editing job I’ve ever done.

3. I imagine that many of the princesses mentioned in the book would have to be renamed for the English edition. How were these names chosen?
Almost all the princesses had to be renamed. The one I remember most was “Poisson D’Avril”, which means April Fish. Toula explained that the French version of April Fool’s Day – Poisson D’Avril – is when the French surreptitiously stick paper fish on people’s backs. I called a Parisian friend of mine who lives in New York and asked her what she did on April 1st, and she said, “Well, of course, I stick paper fish on people’s backs! Why?” I loved that she’d been doing this for years in the United States, entirely unaware that no one got the joke. We renamed this character “Princess Eelizabeth”, (we are not afraid of bad puns) and she became our underwater princess, sister of “Alba Core” and “Anne Chovy”.
Even more fun, there were many princesses that had us stumped, so we posted their images in our editorial department, along with write-ups of their characteristics, and invited the Sterling staff to come and add their ideas for names. Our department was swamped! Our contracts manager, Brooke Barona, named the princess who couldn’t stop talking “Babbling Brooke”, which makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever met Brooke. And Josh Mrvos from our trade sales department named the princess who loves to read “Princess Paige.” Not coincidentally, Josh’s baby daughter is named Paige, and he did guarantee it would bring in sales from the Mrvos clan. It was truly a company-wide effort, which was extremely exciting.  

4. The format for this book is very unique.  Why did this appeal to you?
It’s the kind of book you can dip in and out of for years, and you’ll always find something new. The large size and extent of the book make it feel even more like a mysterious tome brimming with secrets.

5.Young princess fans will be instantly attracted to this book.  Why do you think adult fans will embrace it as well?
My 40-year-old friends with kids in Park Slope are huge fans of this book! They read it with their daughters but the intricate word play and wry humor certainly appeals to adults. This is truly a multi-generational read.

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