by Emer O’Sullivan (Routledge 2001/2005)
When I read the title and the publisher’s review, I thought CCL was going to be about doing comparative critical analysis between and among distinct national children’s literatures.
It is and it isn’t.
CCL is more about translations and less about nuances of national literatures for the sake of national literatures. It’s a fabulous book, well written (and well translated from German to English!) and definitely got me thinking more about studying children’s literature from and in different countries. It confirmed what everyone already knows: that the United States exports far more of its own literature to other countries than is willing to import from other countries.
“Internationalism, international children’s literature and international understanding through children’s literature have been amongst the most important and widely used terms in children’s literature discourse from the mid-1940s to the present day, but they frequently conceal the fact that there is no equal exchange of texts between all countries; rather, the border-crossing is extremely imbalanced.” (p. 65)
Would it be too much to consider this a form of the American empire’s cultural imperialism, carefully and skillfully shrouded in the guise of an ‘innocuous’ children’s book?
“.. they [children’s books] are devised with an eye to international exploitation from the first.” (p. 101)
How sad. Books lose their cultural/ethnic/national identity from conception. Illustrators draw illustrations in such a way as to make sure that any national/cultural markers such as native street signs are made more “international,” or by deleting the Eiffel Tower in the background.
If books become increasingly “globalized” and de-nationalized, how will children in Korea learn about children in France? How will children in Iraq learn about children in Nigeria? Why is it that Korean and Iraqi and French kids can read books about kids in the United States and Great Britain, but publishers in the US and GB feel that Korean, Iraqi and French books are too “foreign” for American audiences?
One of my favorite examples of a messed up translation is how the Mad Hatter’s tea party is changed to a coffee party in Germany because Germans drink coffee, not tea (p. 99). I mean, really?? Do they think German kids don’t know that some people drink tea?!
Another funny one – the French translators of Pippi Longstocking decided that French children had too much “common sense” to believe that Pippi could lift a horse, so they changed it to a pony. “[Astrid] Lindgren reacted to this curious argument that a girl was more likely to be able to pick up a pony than a horse by asking to see a photograph of a French child holding a pony in the air” (p. 84). Part of the magic of the Pippi stories is that she can do such outrageous things as lift a horse and defeat pirates. Taking out those elements destroys the integrity of the story.
“Instead of multiculturality based on knowledge and acceptance of differences between cultures, we have here an (allegedly) cultural neutrality, resulting in non-specific, levelled-out, international products. The mere fact that children’s literature is being translated or coproduced thus has no particular cultural value in itself.” (p. 103)