LEWISTON —  It started as a teenager’s project to stave off boredom during summer vacation. 

It’s ended up as a published book.

Lily Shi, a 15-year-old sophomore at Lewiston High School, has translated the popular Chinese children’s book “The Adventures of a Little Rag Doll” into English. The young adult chapter book was originally written by Sun Youjun, a prolific Chinese author known for his fairy tales and nominated in 1990 for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, according to online booksellers.

Shi’s English version was released last week. On Amazon.com, her name and official title — translator — is listed next to the author’s.

“No one really expected me to do it.  When I told my family I was going to translate it, they didn’t really believe me,” she said. “I’m very excited. This is a real accomplishment.”

Shi’s mother, Hong Lin, gave her “The Adventures of a Little Rag Doll” two years ago. As a girl, Lin had loved the story about Little Butou, a rag doll who goes on adventures with, and sometimes without, his child owner. Lin thought her own children would adore the story, and she hoped the book — in its original language — might encourage them to better learn her native Chinese.

Shi did love the story. So much so, in fact, that she wanted to share it with her friends. But while she could read Chinese, they couldn’t. That summer, bored and looking for something to do, she decided to translate it. 

Her family thought it was a great idea and they agreed to help when needed, but they didn’t hold out much hope for a finished project. Shi was a young teenager at the time and a translation would run over 200 pages long. Her mother thought she might try it for a couple of weeks and move on to something else. 

“I didn’t take it that seriously,” Lin said.

But a month or so later, Shi finished.

“I got a shock,” Lin said. “I was surprised. I was also happy.”

Shi’s aunt, a translator in New York, took a look at the rough draft and offered some edits. Shi realized her translation could be more than a home project to share with some friends. It could be a real book.

While they were in China visiting family, Lin contacted Youjun, the author, and told him of her daughter’s project. Shi was invited to visit. The two talked, smiled together for a picture. Modest and gentle, he offered her some of his books. He signed her Chinese copy of “The Adventures of a Little Rag Doll.”

He gave her permission to get her translation published.

Friends of Lin’s parents happened to know a Chinese publisher with a partnership in New York. The company was looking to publish children’s books in English. Shi sent them her manuscript. They liked her translation.

“It just happened at the right time,” Lin said.

Published by Better Link Press, the 217-page paperback book is now available online and through bookstores. 

Although Shi gets a small amount of compensation from the publisher, she won’t receive royalties. Those will go to the author. But the project, she believes will look good on her resume. She’s thinking about becoming a translator someday. Or maybe something else.

“I may be interested in becoming a writer,” she said.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.