So much is still known by very few Americans: that their favorite children’s book author, the famous Dr. Seuss, who was of German descent and was actually called Theodor Geisel (Seuss was his mother’s maiden name, Henrietta). But his readers could have noticed: by finding words like the “Biffer-Baum Birds”, the “Herk-Heimer Falls” or the “castle of Krupp”, they can all be found (and quite early on) in the picture book “Dr . Seuss’s Sleep Book. You have to think about it first: wanting to make children sleepy with the place name Krupp. But Geisel aka Dr. Seuss was always looking for onomatopoeic appealing words, and he also needed “Krupp” to rhyme with the next line ending in “up.” In the original, the word “Krapp” was read out phonetically. Incidentally, four years earlier, “Krapp’s Last Tape” by Samuel Beckett had premiered, and its title hero is pronounced in German, but even if you speak of Dr. Seuss himself is capable of some things, he probably would not have expected his audience to understand such an allusion. Certainly not that Krupp would have thought of guns either. Finally, he wrote and illustrated his books for pre-readers.
His German colleague Nadia Budde has the same target audience and she also loves the combination of rhyme and drawing. No wonder, then, that she has now translated the “Sleep Book” – for the first time in sixty years. However, one looks in vain for the “castle of Krupp” in her version (what should rhyme with “Krupp” in German? “Blubb” maybe), but it became “Knupperburgkoben”. Potz Blitz, that’s a translation service. “The news came in from the castle of Krupp / That the lights are all out and the drawbridge is up” becomes “Here comes a message from Knupperburgkoben: / The lights are out and the bridge is up”.
This example shows that Budde does not even try to translate the specific Seussian rhythm into German, true to the syllables or intonation. How should that work with the rich and Dr. Seuss according to the richly used stock of monosyllabic words that English offers? Eleven years ago, none other than the writer Felicitas Hoppe translated several Seuss picture stories for the anthology “Grünes Ei mit Speck” and in doing so gave an insight into the difficulty of getting to grips with these texts in the more polysyllabic German language.
But these are academic considerations. While you can put poetry lovers out of sleep, Dr. But Seuss wanted to lull his young audience to sleep, and he did it with the equivalent of the famous counting of sheep. Not that we’re content here with one, two, three and so on – the doctor ends with “ninety-nine zillion nine trillion and three” (which Budde translates into a somewhat more boringly realistic “ninety-nine trillion nine trillion and eight – the latter digit again because of the rhyme – will). But don’t worry, dear parents and other readers: The counting only starts at 40,404, and the jumps to twenty-three digits are so big that the fifty pages of the picture book are enough. However, there is a risk that the unusually huge numbers will keep the young listeners awake rather than making them tired. But fifty pages is so much that one can count on premature snoozing.
That’s why the book doesn’t come up with a story from a single source, but sets bizarre creatures and their sleeping habits in words and pictures, which are always good for isolated reading and contemplation. But they are all counted in the “zillion” or trillion sleeping people, to whom is added, as the last member of the great number, the child to whom the book is being read. Hence the “eight” as the end of the target value in the translation: “Next you might sleep too you? / Then you turn off your light, you belong. / To the ninety-nine trillion, / Nine trillion and eight. / Well then, / Good night! Seuss goes like this: “When you put out your light, / Then the number will be / Ninety-nine zillion / Nine trillion and three. / Goodnight.”
You can see the subtle differences again: The exclamation mark at the end had Dr. Seuss not necessary, and Nadia Budde added the flippant “Well then.” However, her variation in rhyme scheme and number of syllables is always justifiable, even if she shows less sense of rhythm than her colleague. But what are we complaining about? Translating Seuss is no small matter, and that the slumber book is now available in German. is great.
“Dr. Seuss’ Slumber Book”. Translated from the English by Nadia Budde. Kunstmann Verlag, Munich 2022. 56 p., ill., hardcover, €18. From 4 years