Dr. Suss speaking Russian

Danny DeVito speaks Russian in Universal’s animated hit

Vladimir Gandelsman:; There is no children’s author more popular in English than Suss. His “Cat in the Hat” is a children’s Bible. There is no child who does not know this book

Dr. Seuss, aka Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel, is one of the most famous children’s authors in the United States. The heroes of Suss spoke Russian thanks to the poet and translator Vladimir Gandelsman.

Vladimir Gandelsman: Any good book heals illiteracy, and not just children. More terrible than a letter with spelling or syntax errors, the illiteracy of the soul. But the literal meaning is also correct. I remember my childhood and reading the first books: “The Little Humpbacked Horse”, “The Adventures of Pinocchio”, “Fedorin’s Grief” … Of course, they teach. These words both on the covers and inside are imprinted in our memory forever and, even without having learned the rules of the Russian language, we will learn how they are written..

“And they see: behind them from the dark pine forest / Fyodor walks and hobbles.” Again, it’s not just words – I clearly remember how worried and cordially sympathized with Fedora, and how happy I was when her pots and irons returned to her. One of the first lessons of empathy.

Dr. Seuss does it his own way, but of course he does it. Not to mention the fact that he has directly instructive stories. The game start is preserved there, but these stories are not the best.

One of the interesting differences between good reading for children and adults – you know what? A villain in an adult book is a real villain, and he can be so strongly written – we know this remarkably, for example, from Dostoevsky’s Demons, that he jumps out of the book and goes for a walk around the world. He becomes, as it were, a guiding star for real villains … But for Suess “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” – such a mischievous villain trying to ruin the holiday for children, the villain is quite charming, toy, and he causes laughter, not disgust, and draws into the game , into mischief. There is no hatred of negative characters in the best children’s books, therefore they will not teach you bad things.

Masha Morton: In 1956, in an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, Geisel said: “I try to treat the child as an equal, because I am absolutely sure that the child is able to understand absolutely everything that is read to him, if of course the author expresses himself clearly and simply.” What do you think, if an adult is, as it were, on a par with a child, then what will he teach him?

V.G .: Suss is telling the truth: he is not arrogant. I have been working with children for many years, and I was more engaged in literature and creativity than in Russian – with children aged 6 to 12, and I have not come across books where the author is arrogant or arrogant. This does not mean that they do not exist, but it is difficult for me to imagine how this could be. You have to be an idiot to treat a child this way. At the same time, I am not a supporter of the idea that all children are brilliant or wonderful – there is such an idea: oh, how they draw! and so on, and the reason for this is found in their immediacy, spontaneity … – no, there are naturally gifted children, and there are nasty and not very gifted … But arrogance towards them? In no case.

But the teacher must be talented. What does it mean? This means that there must be an innate childishness in it, not fake, but innate. He must sincerely love the game, he must play, and not flirt, but, unlike a child, for whom only physical fatigue sets the limit for play, an adult should imperceptibly control the game and teach something in moments of deft falling out of the game. Gradually.

Teach – what? For example, wit. Wit is good, because it develops speed and non-stencil thinking. After all, children do not know how to joke, this is not an innate quality of a person. Have you seen the witty child? But through word games you can teach. Here I am translating Suss, this is in the book “Cat in the Hat” – there it began like this: “We were sitting alone, never leaving, it was damp, damp outside because of the rain.” I write “damp, damp” (by the way, Suss doesn’t have this, I came up with this, but mentally asking him – is it possible? And he allowed) – what is it? – damp-damp – the one who reads a book to a child will explain to him where it came from, and he will be surprised and smile: “It turns out that you can do that ?!” This is a specific linguistic wit, and Suss is good not at ideological things (as I said, he has such), but at play. In composing new words including.

In the book “If I were the director of a zoo” he comes up with incredible animals so that everything would be anew and unusual. Like this:

… ”I’ll go to the faraway mountains of Tobsk

Near the River of Nobsk, and I’ll bring back an Obsk,

A sort of a kind of a Thing-a-ma-Bobsk

Who only eats rhubarb and corn-on-the-cobsk … ”(Dr. Seuss. If I ran a Zoo. Random House, 1950)

Where is the river Syrborsk and Mount Pomidorsk,

I will find the beast under the name Umorsk,

very similar to the beast Kastork,

he eats corn and a terrible glutton,

and all people will rush to me without rassborsk,

and they will say: “This is just a delight!

Such Suss is a pleasure to translate.

The concept of “teacher talent” also includes memory, memory of oneself, a child. The teacher must remember how difficult it is to be a child, how everything is for the first time, how your body and soul are slowly seeking and finding each other, and what a fragile process it is. We must remember this so as not to damage the development of the child. The child does not learn the rules and orders, and if he does, then by force, when he knows that punishment will follow. But the child learns images – he sees situations in which a person behaves this way and not otherwise. And this person, whether he wants it or not, becomes the child’s teacher. But not just a person, but a teacher – he does not teach involuntarily, he is aware of this, he realizes that the child learns, looking at how this adult behaves, and then recalls the images – in this case, SO, and in this – SO.

And if we talk about good books for children, then, of course, they do not issue orders, they are figurative thinking, and transfer the experience of figurative thinking to children.

M.M.: What is the secret of Suss’ popularity? Maybe in a clear way for a child? For his first book, which became popular, he used only 220 words. But he has so many topics, many of which are complex? Are you comparing Suess with Chukovsky and Kharms? Tell about it.

V.G .: Comprehensibility is a very necessary quality and very insufficient. It doesn’t matter if the topic is complex or simple, be so kind as to find words and word combinations available to your child. It’s a matter of skill. But simplicity can be boring to the point of yawning. Let me tell you a fairy tale about a fly. Once upon a time there was a fly. Once she went to the market to buy a samovar … And so on. And you will fall asleep quickly.

But if I say:

Fly, Fly-Tsokotukha,

Gilded belly!

The fly went across the field,

The fly found the money. –

you will listen, even if you do not understand anything. This is a wonderful sound. This is what distinguishes Chukovsky’s poems and, say, Kharms’ children’s poems from many good (I emphasize: good and even excellent) poems by other authors. I think Suss has this quality.

When I was working with the children, the task necessarily included memorizing one poem per week. With what ease they learned the aforementioned Chukovsky or Kharms! Here is Kharms’s “Balloons are flying across the sky …”, and people wave their hands to them, and then they start waving anything: “Balloons are flying across the sky, / and people are waving their hats, / balloons are flying across the sky, / and people are waving sticks. / Balloons are flying across the sky, / and people are waving rolls, / balloons are flying across the sky, / and people are waving cats … ”And the children laugh and not only learn it easily, but are ready to invent the whole lesson what else these strange people are waving. This is not only remembered on the fly, but also turns on.

The same is with Suss. He comes up with new animals for the zoo: “Lion-four legs? – Nonsense! Believe it or not, / ten legs and no less should be now, / so that there are five on the left and on the right. / “Well, well, – the audience will say, – bravo!” … – and the children respond instantly and begin to invent their outlandish animals. Such poems encourage co-creativity, and this is their most valuable quality..

M.M .: What are Suss’s poems about? Can they be called “American” or are they universal??

V.G .: One of my very books is about Horton the elephant. In it, the bird throws its egg to the elephant and the elephant incubates it out of a sense of duty. They laugh at him, they show him in the circus. And then the chick hatches! There are very touching verses:

”‘ My goodness! My gracious! ‘They shouted. ‘MY WORD!

It’s something brand new!


And it should be, it should be, it SHOULD be like that!

Because Horton was faithful! He sat and he sat!

He meant what he said

And he said what he meant … ‘

…. And they sent him home


One hundred per cent! ” (Dr. Seuss. Horton hatches the egg. Random House, 1940)

In my arrangement, it sounds like this:

And then the visual,

filled to the top hall

exploded: “What an amazing

he showed us all the trick!

Chick of unknown breed!

He hatched a miracle of nature!

An elephant with wings! Trunk bird!

He can be proud of himself!

He hatched his twin in miniature!

Let’s release the elephant and his Elephant Carrier! ” (Dr. Seuss. Horton hatches an egg (translated by V. Gandelsman) // ABC 2018)

I think there are no barriers to these verses: they can exist in any language in any country. And there are. And in English there is no children’s author more popular than Suss. His “Cat in the Hat” is a children’s bible. There is no child who does not know this book. By the way, four books “The Cat in the Hat”, “The Return of the Cat in the Hat” and two about the elephant Horton were published by the publishing house “Azbuka” in St. Petersburg. It’s a pity that the others didn’t come out, but I have about six more translated..

M.M .: How to translate it? For example, such a quatrain?

The news just came in

From the country of Keck

That a very small bug

By the name of Van Vleck

Is yawning so wide you can look

Down his neck (Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book. Random House, 1962)

V.G.: I translated these lines into Russian as follows:

The latest news

from Fick Fock:

little beetle named

and patronymic Zhu-Chok

yawns so that little

everyone can see the tongue!

How it’s done? It’s easier for me to translate something than to answer your question. Some kind of competitive inspiration is needed. I tell myself: “I will do it even better than in the original!” Also a game, but with the author.

M.M .: Is Suss an adult or a child’s poet? And is there a line?

V.G .: Suss is, of course, a children’s poet that a child should read with the help of an adult. In fact, at first this is inevitable, since the child does not yet know how to read. Suss is a childish poet, because an adult (on his own, for himself) is unlikely to withstand this charming chatter for a long time. The chatter that children love so much – all sorts of counting rhymes, tongue twisters, all these “one, two, three, four, five, I’m going to look …” – they exactly correspond to the rhythm of their life, which seems to be accelerating. As for me, I don’t write children’s poems, I translated them, and I liked this lesson. Goodbye – one thing Sussa. In it, play and direct instructiveness are combined, in my opinion, quite organically. So – “King Louis Who”.


In the year, no one knows what,

love a pack of cats,

was king in the Kingdom

King Louis Who.

He was proud of his tail,

and his tail, as in a bath,

washed properly in gold

eight-liter jug.

– I admire my tail! –

the bouncer boasted of his tail. –

Can’t be allowed to

dragged behind me!

And here is Louis in the tail of the tail

guard the living relics

put a cat as a henchman

Louis Which Is Easier.

And in the Kotolishty old and small,

everyone began to have fun,

until this henchman became

squint on your tail.

– My lovely tail! – dropped a tear

he is in grief. – Not good!

I carry the king’s tail!

I can and be proud!

And he became proud. And so

since then, both in the heat and in the cold

a cat was running with its tail

Louis Who Is Worse.

And there was peace in the Kotolishty,

bye which is Worse

I didn’t find my ponytail

lying peacefully in a puddle.

The way out of the position is simple:

content with fate,

the tail should have taken over

Which is twice as bad.

So it was in the Kotolhestvo,

what was carrying (just in case)

Which is Worse Bigger – the tail

the one which is better.

Everyone was spinning as if in a wheel.

(When would you take a look!)

Not a webbing – a tail! In the end, everything

your tail and did not pull.


Except the baby behind,

which was the last,

the last of all cats among …

Oh little! Oh pale!

Unhappy cat behind –

Louis Who Is Poor.

– My tail is the last one, as if it were a sin,

I know it for sure,

but he’s no worse than everyone else!

I am small. But proud!

He was so furious,

that, spitting, shouted boldly:

– I endured it all for a long time!

I give up this case!

I, gentlemen, is not so simple!

I do not accept slavery! –

and swung the tail, and swung the tail,

and slammed his tail on the ground.

Then Which is Worse Cat

the last one assented

and swung his tail too, and behold

Louis Which is Easier a Cat –

such is the outcome of the story –

the royal tail flapped …

No cat anymore there,

everything became as usual,

and everyone wears his own tail,

and everything is demo-kitty.

(Poems in Russian are reproduced with the permission of V. Gandelsman)

  • Masha Morton

    Voice of America Correspondent. Reporter for the Made in USA program Interests: social journalism, culture, art

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