Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saturday Work Liveblog, Part II

Very little of physical excitement happened in these two hours: I read. I thought. I wrote. I stuck what I read and wrote in either a file box (to be shared with the rest of the imprint at our next staff meeting) or an envelope (to be returned to its creator or publisher).

But I read and thought about a lot of mentally exciting things: A book about Muhammad, who I am ashamed to say I know very little about, and I was fascinated by what I learned of his life. A poetry collection or two, which require careful consideration about the worth of the poetry and the best way to make it work for publication in today's market. Some French children's publishers' catalogues, which featured some really, really beautiful books. (Also a lot of books about philosophy and death, I must say . . . You can often discern a nation's character (or at least the stereotypes of a nation's character) in its children's book catalogues. The Swedish: amazingly open about sex! And death too.) And a foreign picture book about a little boy taking a bath in the sink and the deeply strange-looking adventures on which this leads him (starting with a grown man sitting in the sink with him with a clipboard), which features a lot of nakedness to go along with the weirdness. (Two other things that come up a lot in foreign picture books, which you hardly ever see in American ones: nakedness and peeing.)

It's also interesting, in reading foreign-publishers' catalogs, to see what's common across all children's publishing houses everywhere: A chick-lit line. A sports-book line (almost exclusively soccer in Europe). Horses, occasionally (though much more in the UK or Australia than in Europe central). Princesses, pirates, nonfiction about dinosaurs. And the incursion of multiculturalism in each country's unique form: The French have lots of books about Algeria and Islam; Germany has books about Turkey and Turks; we saw a lot of books from the UK and Australia about asylum seekers a couple years ago (though this seems to have fallen off a bit). (There's also deep stereotyping, I must say, in the form of wildly inaccurate-looking books about Native Americans or Africans that would give U.S. cultural arbiters fodder for years.) It's fascinating.

And going back to the nakedness/peeing/sex: Thinking about how other countries are so comfortable and accepting of these things and telling their children about them, I start to wonder why we're not. What's the matter with having really honest, frank discussions about body parts or losing your virginity or the fact that we're all naked under our clothes? While they don't need to be a topic of daily discussion (or picture books, necessarily), maybe we could all calm down a bit about these matters if we discussed them matter-of-factly rather than with our usual frenzied Puritanism. The scrotum debate is unimaginable elsewhere. . . .

I hope there's a European or Asian children's books editor out there somewhere who's writing the foreign equivalent of this post: "Those crazy Americans! So uptight about penises!"


  1. I live in Germany, and it's hard to believe that there could be countries with a BIGGER line of horse books than here. Both the library and bookstore (and Germans have HUGE bookstores) have entire sections devoted to just horse books. We're talking shelves.

    Er, yes, and there are a lot of books without clothes.

    I find that German picture books are exceedingly long, even board books. 2000 words, easy. I don't know how kids sit still for them. I have a hard time sitting still that long without flipping pages. And they don't have as much tension in the plots. It's all very safe. Even without looking at the author names, I can always pick out the picture books translated from another language. The British ones have plenty of tension, maybe even more bite than the American ones. (See Baker Cat by Posy Simmonds for a truly scary Bad Guy.)

    Enjoy browsing the catalogs--it's fun to see what people want to read in other countries!

  2. Ohhh, so that's why my first YA novel sold well overseas. I always wondered. It features Rex, the protagonist's penis, which made a lot of American reviewers uncomfortable.