“International” Picturebooks

When you and I talk about ‘international children’s books’, are we talking about the same thing?

Genuine cultural exchange does not equal the International Book Market.

The international exchange of children’s literature is not well balanced, and different countries and regions participate in it to a greatly varying extent. The direction in which borders are crossed is not determined solely by the international status of the source language and culture, but also by political and economic factors: the world of children’s literature can be divided into exporting and importing countries. The countries that ‘give’ (export) the most also ‘receive’ (import) the least: they are Great Britain and the USA. At the other end of the scale are those countries that almost exclusively import children’s literature and produce little or non of it themselves — for instance certain Asian and African countries. They provide a market for the global corporations. The postulated internationalism of children’s literature proves to be a European and North American perspective: ‘We too hastily confer the status of “international children’s books” on our own [American] works that have attracted a worldwide following. … This makes it easy to project our own assumptions about quality out into the world, never stopping to let the rest of the world speak to us.’

– from Comparative Children’s Literature by Emer O’Sullivan, in which he quotes J Garret from The Many Republics Of Childhood (1996).

Further thoughts from same:

The vast majority of texts are translated from English, so the range of ‘foreign’ cultures to which children are introduced is actually limited. In addition, not all translations can be classified as literature of a quality which genuinely enriches the target literature; popular fiction series, for instance, make up an ever increasing proportion of translations. Therefore the often quoted but seldom substantiated claim that translation brings the “best” of children’s literature from many cultures to young readers in other countries … is undermined by the closer analysis of importation patterns’.

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