How do you translate Green Eggs and Ham into Hebrew? It’s an extremely difficult feat. Dr. Seuss’s wonderful, rhyming children’s books are, in every possible way, an ode to the English language.
Green Eggs and Ham, for example, is the perfect book for beginning language learners. It contains a mere 50 different word — 49 of which have only one or two consonants (i.e., Sam, Am; Box, Fox). It’s the pithiness of language, along with its consistent tone of playful joy, that have made it one of the top-selling English-language children’s books of all time.
Translating that rhyming exuberance into any language other than English is a tough job. But it’s especially challenging for someone who wants to publish the book in Hebrew, for the only Jewish nation in the world. After all, in a country where pork products aren’t readily available, what’s the kosher version of Green Eggs and Ham?
That’s where the incredible Leah Naor comes in. The 83-year-old playwright, songwriter, author, translator, and mom of three is the talent who has translated Seuss’ children’s books to Hebrew. (Her latest translation, of The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, came out in 2012.)
When the Hebrew version of Green Eggs and Ham was published in 1982, she changed the title to Lo Raev, Lo Ohev — which means, roughly, “Not Hungry, Don’t Love It.” Throughout the entire story, the name of the disliked dish is never mentioned. The book is so fun, and so fantastical, no kid ever stops to wonder, “Wait, what is that meat?” Really, it’s brilliant!
Naor was very exact with the translations of Seuss’s book, making sure to follow the same economy of words as much as the (relatively new) Modern Hebrew language allowed. Some of the words may be different, but the rhythm, and the magical story, remains the same.
Researching Naor, I found out that she wrote some of my favorite Hebrew kids songs of my childhood. She wrote tunes from my favorite musical, Bubblegum Seeds — about a group of kibbutz-dwelling kids attempt to plant bubblegum seeds in order to grow bubblegum trees — based upon children’s books she wrote by the same name. Just like Seuss’s books, Naor’s original creations are imaginative and enchanting.
I’m so grateful to Naor for filling my childhood in Israel with such captivating music and words. She’s so good that when I came to the U.S. in the late 2000s and started babysitting for American kids, reading Seuss’s books in English felt seamless and familiar.
My first child is due this summer. I’m really looking forward to reading these books with my future child — both in Hebrew and in English — and passing both Naor and Seuss’s love of language.
And if you’re curious about what the Hebrew version of “Green Eggs and Ham” actually sounds like, here is a recording of it being read: