The United States boasts the largest book market in the world, and a significant part of that market is children’s books. But what are kids around the world reading? Do other children like to read the same things that Americans do? Attendees of yesterday’s Global Kids Connect Conference held at The Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons can safely answer: yes and no.
Throughout the day many of the speakers emphasized local versus global voices. Julia Marshall from Gecko Press said during a panel on translation that she kept trying to acquire titles that would “blend in” with books from New Zealand, only to have a local librarian ask, “why would we want more of the same when we could have something new?” This mindset changed Marshall’s acquisitions strategy at Gecko. Earlier in the day, literary historian Leonard Marcus also extolled the importance of getting hyper-local stories out into the world. “The internet projects and amplifies these efforts,” he said. In a later panel, Heather Lennon from NorthSouth Publishing noted that the increased access to global content has made it much easier to sell kids books with European themes in the US, much in the way watching foreign movies and tv shows on streaming services made them accessible to a US public.
There are of course some stories and categories that won’t work in certain countries. On a scouting panel deftly moderated by Ginger Clark, scouts Kalah McCaffrey and Rachel Hecht and agent Allison Hellegers shared what kinds of books simply don’t work abroad. “There are no circuses in Finland!” Hellegers laughed when recalling nonstarter book topics abroad. “Pig books don’t work in Israel, except Olivia, because she’s so charming,” Hecht mused.
But no matter how charming a book can be there’s the challenge of making a book work abroad when it must be translated. The answer to getting it right? — Make it the same, but different. Paolo Canton from Topipottori said that translators can use the illustrations in a book as a more significant guide to the story than the text. “You can change the text, but it must fit the illustration…If we have to sacrifice something, its faithfulness to the original and not the effect [of the story],” he said. Anthony Shugaar from Paraculture agreed saying, “If you try to get everything out of the original, you’ll fail.”
No matter what the story, no matter where the reader, one clear takeaway from the day’s presentations and panels is that kids are still reading. And more importantly, “kids like to read!” exclaimed David Kleeman from DubIt. Kleeman shared lots of fascinating data on children’s reading habits. He reported that 45% of kids across all age groups say they like to read when they have the time, and that 60% of children surveyed want to share a book that they’ve loved with friends, and that sentiment is something that will always be the same, no matter where.