New York Times best-selling author Cornelia Funke (perhaps best known for her Inkheart trilogy) says Emma and the Blue Genie came to life through the granting of wishes. Funke had been working with the German illustrator Kerstin Meyer on her book Princess Pigsty and says she “loved that pig so much, that it became my favorite book for the younger ones. So I said to her, ‘We have to do another one!’ I wrote The Pirate Pig, and again the illustrations were just brilliant. And that’s when I said to Kerstin, ‘Thank you very much, now you get to have a wish!’ ”

An illustrator herself, Funke says she knows how such artists long for the day when “you could have that story with everything in it that you’ve always wanted to draw. Kerstin said, ‘Oh, I would love to do something with the Arabian Nights.’ Well, OK! I got my orders, and I started writing.”

In Funke’s magical tale, Emma (who has four sometimes-tiresome brothers) slips away with her dog Tristan for a little seaside solitude and discovers a mysterious bottle containing a little blue genie; she sets him free and their whirlwind adventure begins. Funke enjoyed combining little delights from her own past—the genies she’d once read about, a dog she’d owned, a dromedary from a tiny German puppet show she’d loved as a child. “Why not put all that together and just play?” Funke had “younger ones” herself, a son and daughter who were five years apart in age; she wanted to write something that would appeal to a multilayered audience, “a story that could entertain both the older one and the little one…and the parents who read it aloud.”

The resulting book pleased Funke for a variety of reasons. “I love this one because it shows first of all how hard it can be to be a sister of many brothers; I’ve seen many girls who are very patient with their little brothers, very caring—but it’s sometimes a hard task. Also, I love the dog. It’s so special to have a dog in there who cannot speak but nevertheless makes it very clear what he means, which my dog does constantly to me. Then there’s the adventure of the flying carpet. To go to an Arabian country! Every storyteller loves to do this, to use the flying carpet. It’s such a wonderful device.”

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Most of Funke’s work (including Emma and the Blue Genie) is translated from German, a process that intrigues her. “You have another voice in another language,” she explains. Though her work has been widely translated, only with English does she feel “enough the master of it…to really criticize something. Other languages maybe I could read, but I would never judge whether something’s good or bad. But sometimes when it’s translated into English I feel, ‘That’s not what I intended.’ ”

Which isn’t always a bad thing. “Sometimes to really find the right translation you need to change things,” she adds, “to step away from the text.” Funke enjoyed having Emma and the Blue Genie translated by her cousin, Oliver Latsch, someone who’s known her from childhood and who lives nearby, “so we can work on it very closely together.” Recently, Funke had the opportunity to record Emma and the Blue Genie as an audiobook, which she says was a great deal of fun and also an affirmation of its successful translation. “When I read it aloud, that’s a good test. And I really, really liked it.” Funke Cover

Success on an international stage has transformed Funke’s life; she’s traveled the world to meet a wide audience that still has the power to astonish her. “Before I was German and I had barely left the country. Now suddenly I have friends and readers all over the world…I have just come back from Australia and am going soon to India…this has just opened the world to me. That I hadn’t expected. It has changed me so much that I can barely compare myself to the person I was 10 years before.”

Funke recalls attending a book festival in India, where she read outside “in a huge park in Dehli,” an experience she describes as unforgettable. “It was amazing to come to a country where you’ve never been and to feel your characters are already there. The other side of the world, and they’ve already been there for years!” she marvels. “It’s such an extraordinary experience.”

Jessie C. Grearson is a freelance writer and writing teacher living in Falmouth, Maine. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.