Books from Bologna: Titles that Will Never Ever Be Published in America
This is one of my favorite posts to write.
The first thing any first time American will notice upon coming to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is how different the mores and understandings of childhood are throughout the world. What you find acceptable I might find horrific, and vice versa.
Much of my time at the fair is spent going through the picture books on display from other nations, marveling at the sheer variety of them all. Sometimes my eyes will alight on a particular title. I’ll pick it up, page through, and realize why I’ve never seen the book on U.S. shores.
Here is a collection then of some of the titles I saw at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair this year that were *ahem* unlikely to be at your local library anytime soon:
We’re going to start tame. This little number was one of the more charming titles I found at the fair. Indeed, I was going to include it in my upcoming piece on Books I’d Love to See Brought to America. I mean, how awesome is this rabbit?
I’m just a sucker for a morose bunrab. And then, I saw this:
Now the animals don’t get shot and indeed the hunter is brought to understand the error of his ways, but here in America we have a bit of a problem with guns. As such, they simply do not appear in our children’s books anymore. They used to. I think we all recall the original cover of Pinkerton, Behave (the gunniest gun book that ever gunned a gun). But these days they simply don’t happen. As such, this book was over before it ever began.
The Matter of Backmatter
If you would like to see me stand on a soapbox for a couple hours in Bologna, ask me to start talking about international nonfiction. Or, rather, why it drives me mad. Take this book as an example. The concept is superb. This is a look at disabilities throughout history starting, literally, in the Pleistocene (I even made a TikTok video about how hot that subject is this year in books). And look! The book even won an award with IBBY for “Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities”! That’s amazing!
So why am I saying it can’t come to America? Well, truth be told, it may come. But if it does it won’t stand up to scrutiny. Why? For the simple reason that Europeans have different standards for their nonfiction. Which is to say, none. Even before I flipped to the back of the book I knew what I would find. No timeline. No index. Maybe a glossary (progress!). But how about a page of sources? A quarter page? An eighth? A tiny list of websites even? Nada. Nothing. Where are the authors getting their information? The world may never know, and the American nonfiction book market? Maybe you can sell this to families, but unless some clever publisher starts slapping backmatter onto their imports (you may steal this idea if you like, publishers) this ain’t ending up on any stars or end of year lists.
What is America’s fart tolerance? Generally speaking, pretty darn low. Not that we don’t have them in books from time-to-time. Walter the Farting Dog did remarkably well at the beginning of the century, but once the fad passed it was unlikely to return.
But if farting did occur in our contemporary books then I would hope it would show up in this adorable South Korean title:
As you can see from the little note at the top, the title of the book translates to “Find the Culprit”. In this story a group of animals (that remind me vaguely of the denizens of the film Zootopia) are in an elevator on a regular workday when the unimaginable happens.
Before the Unimaginable:
After the Unimaginable:
One by one the multicolored farts (not pictured) render unconscious suspect after suspect. Who’s behind the smellage? If you know me then you know that I’ve a natural weakness for South Korea’s picture book market already, so I have to hope that out of all the books I’m listing today, this one may have the best chance. Then again . . . Americans and farts do not get along well.
Which brings us to a very different bodily function: birth!
I don’t know if you can tell but this peppy graphic novel series is #12 so far. I was excited to see that. Comics sell like hotcakes these days, but making them takes a great deal of time. How much better to simply import them from, in this case, Taiwan? But there’s a catch….
A big, baby-elephant-sized catch.
As White As the Eye Can See
I was having a discussion with an editor that lives in Spain about the state of diversifying content in European children’s books. At the fair, I’ve seen some examples of a subtle shift, but not at a rate we’d prefer. So while I enjoy this book’s title:
I’m not as fond of the fact that apparently everyone you want to be friends with, even if they’re fictional, has the same melanin content.
Okay. This is where Europeans think us downright prudes. You and I both know that if so much as a breast or a penis makes it into a picture book, people go into conniption fits. Even if the book is really funny:
As far as I can ascertain our heroine is a series of famous nudes in classic paintings, who runs through the book trying to find some clothes to put on. Extra points to the woman on the far right saying, “For once something’s happening around here!”
Now in the last few years I’ve seen some really nice improvements in books for kids that tell them about menstruation and changing bodies. I thought we were finally catching up with the rest of the world. Friends, I was wrong. Here are two different countries’ books doing exactly what we’re doing here in the States except . . . . more so. The first comes from Taiwan:
Not sure where this second one hails from. Spain, perhaps? This is probably my #1 It Will Never Come to America book.
Extra points for the endpapers:
Don’t get all worked up. It’s just chickens.
Amped up chickens.
Coco actually did make it to America a number of years ago, but with one notable change. In the American version of the tale, the fact that corsets were done away with in favor of lighter forms of underwear for women is celebrated with a woman in a slip leaping away from her former restrictions. In the original? Let’s just say she was even, ah, less restricted.
Filed under: Bologna Children's Book Fair
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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