Many years ago, another teacher and I took some students down to Mexico. On the morning we were to visit the ruins of Chichen Itzá, one of my kiddos, a 14-year old, got sick. You know the one: ate something not quite right sick. We sent his classmates and my colleague on ahead to go climb the pyramid while we hung back in the visitor center, near the bathroom.
It was a long morning. He slept in the theater while we pretended to watch the educational documentary about the ruins. I tried giving him Pepto Bismol, which promptly did the opposite effect and I left him to lie on a table while I bought a couple of souvenirs and some bottled water. One of those souvenirs was a Spanish version of The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I asked my kiddo if he wanted me to read to him, and bless his heart, he said yes. From there began the most stilted read-aloud ever. Was I a Spanish teacher? I was. Was I still fairly fluent in Spanish at the time? Indeed I had been. Was I good at translating a story I knew nothing about when I started it?
My friends, I truly was NOT.
I’d read a line or two, then tell him out loud the best translation I could come up with. And then sometimes I’d try to translate on the fly as I read straight through. I’d get through a couple of pages, pause, and ask my sweet student, “Do you want me to keep going?” And again, bless his heart, he said “yes.” And so we muddled through until neither of us knew anymore what was happening in the story. It was all a poor substitute for what he truly wanted: his own mother in his own country in his own home. But, to his amazing credit, twenty four hours later the crud passed and he made the most of the rest of the trip.
I ended up reading the book in earnest (still in the translated Spanish, because, Determination) in order to highlight it in my novel, All I’m Asking. I chose to include The Little Prince because it had showed up on several 100 Books Everyone Should Read (btw, whatever 100 books you love are the 100 books you should read) AND it always reminds me of that trip and while it’s too bad we both had to miss seeing Chichen Itzá, it’s actually a sweet memory because truly, that kid had the very best attitude about it all. I admire him so much for it.
Somehow, I think the Little Prince would approve.
Did you know Le Petit Prince is the most translated work second to The Bible? I didn’t. Here‘s a bit more: