Cornelia Funke's Dragon Rider Comes to the United States
Book Focus: September 2004
Dragon Rider is the marvelous story of a young dragon whose home is threatened first by encroaching humans, and then by a truly horrible dragon-eating monster that rises out of a forgotten past to hunt him down. With only a rat's map to guide him, he begins his flight to a new refuge with the help of Ben, a homeless boy and the dragon rider of the title, and a rather bad-tempered brownie girl.
This novel is magical, funny and very exciting! I think it will appeal to a younger age group, as well as Cornelia's many existing fans. Readers everywhere will love this adventure, especially the message that everyone, whatever his species, size, or ability, has his own part to play and is valued for that. In Dragon Rider, as in much of Cornelia Funke's work, it is the relationships and the mutual trust and valor of the characters that we come to love and admire most of all.
As an editor, one of the most fascinating aspects of working on a translation is to watch the re-birth of a book into English. I work closely with the translator and Cornelia herself, as we explore what our language offers for the characters and plot. English has a much bigger vocabulary than German especially in the everyday language of children so this gives Cornelia a whole new set of possibilities. Luckily she speaks our language excellently, and so we can all enjoy trying out Brownie speech and Fairy talk!
Our translator is the world famous Anthea Bell — a great craftswoman who does all she can to stick closely to what the author intended, while simultaneously developing the meaning in another language. Cornelia and Anthea say it is like playing jazz around the original tune. Anthea sometimes spends a whole day on one turn of phrase, so you can see how important and creative this process can be.
Cornelia's success among young readers (and their parents and teachers) has been truly amazing. Her first two American books rapidly achieved The New York Times Bestseller status. Part of her secret is, of course, her amazing skill in storytelling, but even more important is what Cornelia calls her ability to be a spy for children — her ability to create adventures like Dragon Rider, in which children have a respected and exciting place in a world where they solve their own problems and help each other.