See how 'A Christmas Carol' and other classics are being translated into emoji

See how 'A Christmas Carol' and other classics are being translated into emoji
"A Christmas Carol," as told with emoji. (Kristina Semenova / Vaikon)

Charles Dickens' tale of a holiday change of heart has endured as a Christmas classic for more than 200 years. Now, it's getting a fresh translation — into emoji.

Hold your "bah, humbug." Kristina Semenova, the woman doing the "translating," is turning books like "A Christmas Carol" into puzzles for kids to solve and enjoy through her company, Vaikon.


The books are rebuses: They combine normally written words with emojis that substitute for words or parts of words. So the classic opening paragraph that opens with, "Marley was dead: to begin with" becomes this:

The opening of "A Christmas Carol."
The opening of "A Christmas Carol." (Kristina Semenova / Vaikon)

One emoji can serve many purposes: The same symbol could indicate different nouns, verbs or adjectives, depending on the context. For instance, the trophy emoji () could stand in for the words "win," "prize," "success," "glory," or "trophy."

She says she got the idea from seeing how emoji use has grown and evolved in past few years. It reminded her of reading children's magazines when she was young: Stories that used symbols in place of words to help guide and engage newer readers. She's a member of the Unicode Consortium, which approves and encodes emojis and other symbols so that they can be read on computers.

When she started translating the books, she only used existing emojis. She quickly realized that the emoji library, while vast, lacks some words, particularly ones that indicate thought, memory, trust and imagination. So the books use "traditional" emojis as well as more than 600 new symbols Semenova designed for the books.

"A Christmas Carol," "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," "The Call of the Wild," "Around the World in Eighty Days" and "Black Beauty" are all available in emoji translations for $2.99 to $3.99. Two free stories by  Hans Christian Andersen, "The Elderbush" and "The Old House," were released Wednesday.

In addition to the standard emoji versions, there are also versions where the face emojis are cats, candy and superheroes.

At the back of each book, a rebus dictionary offers a translation for each emoji and its meaning. As of right now, there are almost 1,100 symbols with 9,600 different meanings.

An example of the rebus dictionary at the back of each book.
An example of the rebus dictionary at the back of each book. (Kristina Semenova / Vaikon)

The emoji translations are envisioned as a way to get newer readers more involved with what they're reading, as well as a way for adults to enjoy their favorite classics in a new way. As of right now, the books are available as digital downloads on the Vaikon website as well as Teachers Pay Teachers and as Kindle books on Amazon. Semenova says they're best read on tablets, but work on e-readers and phones as well.

In the next year, she hopes to adapt more fairy tales into emoji, as well as three new full-length books: "Treasure Island," "Robin Hood" and "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes."