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Review of Arbor Alma: The Giving Tree in Latin

Silverstein, Shel, trans. Jennifer and Terrence Tunberg. Arbor Alma: The Giving Tree in Latin. Bolchazy-Carducci: Wauconda, 2002. pp 60. ISBN 086516499-1

It was with great pleasure that I read the Tunbergs’ latest translation of a popular children’s book: Arbor Alma: The Giving Tree in Latin. Shel Silverstein’s simple yet deeply touching tale of the relationship between a tree and the boy he loves has been given new life in this ancient tongue. From the opening words, “Erat quondam arbor…quae puerulum amabat” until those that close the book, “Dicto audiens consedit ille, et arbor gaudebat” the reader experiences the beauty of the story expressed in Latin.

While the book begins in simple enough Latin (imperfect tenses, simple relative clauses) it does progress naturally, as the text requires, to more difficult grammar (ablative absolutes, participles, subjunctives), especially when the boy begins to make requests for the things he needs in life. The Latin prose dances in places; it is delightful to see the run of imperatives uttered by the tree when the boy first comes to him as a young man:

“Age, age,” inquit arbor, “truncum scande meum, meis e ramis pendens mala consume, mea in umbra lude. Laetus esto.”

After the story, the Tunbergs have included a section called “About our Text,” both in Latin and English. In it they discuss word choices and, indeed, the art of translating from one language to another. This section would be excellent for intermediate or even advanced students to read in order to understand the importance of an interpretive translation as opposed to a “mere verbal image of the original text.” A glossary is provided at the back of the book; a few words have notes attached as well when grammatical usage might be considered difficult.

The Tunbergs have also translated How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat, each translation more pleasing than the last, with Arbor Alma being clearly on top. You and your students will thoroughly enjoy this new addition to children’s literature in Latin.

copyright, Ginny Lindzey, 2002

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July 12 , 2002

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