After over 35 years, there are few surprises left working in children’s books, but finding out they have made a foreign language version of one of your books, without your knowledge, is still one of them. It’s mildly annoying to discover you’re out of the loop again, but ultimately pleasantly satisfying. You want them to acknowledge that you are, in fact, one of the creators of the book, but still, as in this case, when you are the designer/illustrator and not the author, no matter how substantial your contribution, you are generally not considered “important enough” to be kept up to date on everything the publisher is up to. Publishing people will usually debate the point or completely disagree, but the fact is they don’t. I sometimes find out years later and usually by accident. Sometimes even as the author they still don’t always keep you informed. I know. I’ve been on both sides. But that’s another story …
I’m particularly glad this book, Maybe a Bear Ate It!, orginally established as a co-release of a trade/bookstore edition as well as a less expensive edition destined for the Reach-Out-And-Read program in the US which distributes free books to children through pediatrician offices and other health professionals who come into contact with children. The idea being literacy is as much a holistic health issue as an intellectual/cultural/economic issue.
So it makes a lot of sense not to leave out the ever growing first language-Spanish speaking population of children in the US, who though they tend to learn English quite quickly, far faster than their parents, they still have “bridge” reading needs as they learn to read for the first time, particularly if they have little or no English when they begin the process.
Scholastic are great to have agreed with the idea, the brain-child of Robie, the author, networking with various people/organizations before the book was even written. So it was a bit of a work to spec. project, but my end of things was the usual – make it the best book possible. The theme just needed to be about the general theme of Reach-out-and-Read(ROAR): owning and loving a book, a physical book. Part of the motivation for creating ROAR, was the discovery by some pediatricians that some of their patients did not have a single children’s book at their house.
It’s always interesting to read, or look at the printed words of so-called “foreign” editions. And even which countries choose to co-editon the book. While not last word on which cultures identify/understand/ enjoy your work over others – ultimately publishing is personal opinion after all. The national population as a whole does not vote on each purchase, some well meaning but often overworked and underpaid publishing executive at a big foreign rights fair such as Bologna or Frankfurt makes that choice …and the original publisher must choose to feature and sell the title to other rights buyers to0, while simultaneously trying to buy rights themselves to other foreign titles. So it can be hard to tell if anyone ever saw the book or got a chance to buy it at all. That said, it’s still interesting, and gratifying, to have another group of people, who have not seen your book before, to now have a chance to read it, or not. But at least they now have the choice.
The illustration below, the left hand page on the same spread as the right hand page illustration above, shows how much language you could learn just by looking at the book. If you were a child who could not read, the words would look just like this (unless you speak Spanish of course). The main word, is of course familiar, but the rest you could pick up by studying the elephant below, and what he’s doing. The theme of the book is the little guy has lost his book, so he imagines – “maybe a bear ate it!” (the title), then various other animals doing things. What has this animal done to his book??? See, the right illustration can help bridge the gap when learning to read – in any language. Answer below*
*”Maybe an Elephant fell asleep on it!”