Sara Van Meerbergen

University of Stockholm, Sweden 

Translating children’s picture books: A multimodal perspective 

During the last decade, there has been an ongoing discussion about the influence of globalization on children’s media. While some critics initially argued that we are moving towards a more global culture (for children) threatening cultural diversity (O’Sullivan 2005), more recent research has focused on the growing countermovement of local forces and so called ‘localization’ of global media (cf. Machin & Van Leeuwen 2007). At the same time a need is expressed for more thorough analysis of the complexity in the relationship between the local and the global in given situations rather than subscribing to “sweeping generalizations” (Van Leeuwen & Suleiman 2010: 232).

The latter will be the aim of my talk, namely to look at a specific case study about the Swedish translation of the picture books about Miffy by Dick Bruna. Originally Dutch, these picture books, but also the many merchandise products connected to their rabbit protagonist, have been spread all over the globe since the 1960s. By combining aspects from descriptive translation studies (Toury 1995, Hermans 1999) with multimodal text analysis (Kress & Van Leeuwen 2006; Painter, Martin & Unsworth 2013) I study the translation of picture books as a cultural and social semiotic practice (cf. Van Meerbergen 2014). A central point in my analysis will be to show that while translated picture books have the same pictures as their source text (due to co-production), these pictures can assume different meaning potentials when used within different textual, social and cultural contexts, representing different images of children and childhood.



Hermans, T. (1999), Translation in Systems. Manchester, St Jerome.

Kress, G. and Van Leeuwen, T. (2006), Reading Images. The Grammar of Visual Design. London:

Machin, D. and Van Leeuwen, T. (2007), Global Media Discourse. London: Routledge.

O‘Sullivan, E. (2005), Comparative Children’s Literature. Abingdon: Routledge.

Painter, C., Martin, J.R. and Unsworth, L. (2013), Reading Visual Narratives. Image Analysis of Children’s Picture Books. Sheffield: Equinox.

Toury, G. (1995), Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

Van Leeuwen, T. and Suleiman, U. (2010), “Globalizing the Local: The Case of an Egyptian Superhero Comic”. In: N. Coupland (ed.), The Handbook of Language and Globalization. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 232-254.

Van Meerbergen. S. (2014), “The Church as a Cream Pie: A multimodal Translation Analysis of Changing Child Images in Picture Book Translation”. In: B.J. Epstein (ed.), True North: Literary Translation in the Nordic Countries. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 98-116.

profilbild sara van meerbergen 2016
Sara Van Meerbergen is a Senior Lecturer in Dutch and Translation Studies at Stockholm University in Sweden. In 2010 she completed her doctoral dissertation about the Swedish translation of Dutch picture books combining perspectives from descriptive translation studies with multimodal text analysis. She has also worked on a postdoctoral project about play, parody, intertextuality, and interaction in postmodern Flemish picture books. In her research, Sara has a specific interest in the translation of the visual in multimodal texts. Furthermore, her research interests include (descriptive) translation studies, multimodality, social semiotics and picture book studies. More recently, Sara has also been working on projects within the framework of semiotic landscapes together with other Swedish colleagues.