Children's Literature: Marketing in America

Figure 1.-- Scouting themes were popular in French children's literature, like this Signe de Piste book. We notice far fewer British books with Scouting themes and even fewer American books. Signe de Piste was a popular series of French books. Few were ever marketed in America.

The question of the distribution of French language material in foreign countries, especially America and other English speaking countries is a larger question than just Signe de Piste. Many other French publications were also not distributed in America. HBC is attempting to assess this phenomenon.


This question deals with with a very publicized phenomenon, globalization which because of the power of modern American media, some call Americanization. A good example here was the furor over Disneyland in France during the 1980s. In our modern world, the public around the world is constantly exposed to American television and movies. Americans on the other hand rarely see foreign movies (English films being an exception) and almost never see foreign television programs. Many countries (including Canada and France) have addressed this phenomenon which as been viewed as cultural imperialism.

French Literature

As a general rule, only classics and masterpieces of French literature are translated into English along with some best-sellers as well. While translation of books from French to English is still not current, the opposite cannot be said to be true. In Europe, many publishing house will have a German, Italian or Spanish speaking public. (Don't forget that the countries and distances are smaller and more interconnected.)

American Public

The American public is not as open as the European public to outside, especially foreign-language literature. In part this is the more limited foreign-language capability in America. The impact of relative cultural isolation across the Atlantic is another factor. Not every American publishing house is reading to take expensive risks with foreign authors. [Lafrance]


The whole question of translation is an interesting one. A HBC reader maintains, "It is easier for a Francophone to translate into French than an Anglophone to translate into English. The English language is easier to learn than the French language." [Lafrance] Here HBC can not agree or disagree. Having done translations between Spanish an English, we would say that it is more difficult to translate Spanish than English literature. We are not sure, however, that this is due to the actual difficulty of the language. We attribute it more to the style of writing. We find that Spanish-language writers often write sentence several lines long before using a period to stop the sentence. These complex sentences are very difficult to translate. Also we find Spanish to be more flowery written with less economy and less focus on coming to the point. This may, however, be out prejudices as native-English speakers and we would be interested in the views of our Spanish-speaking readers. This may well be a characteristic of the romance (Latin-based) languages. [Lafrance] There may also be cultural patterns that cause the English and Americans to be more interested in economy of language and coming to the point.

French Books in America and Britain

French children's books were read around the world, but were more popular in the French-speaking countries than in the English-speaking countries. As a boy growing up in America during the 1950s, I do not recall seeing the Signe de Piste books or in fact other French books. I am not sure why. Translations may have been part of the problem. Perhaps the themes selected were not appealing or publisher did no think so. There is an element of fantasy involved in some of the covers that I have never seen in American children's literature. We have also not noted them being widely sold in Britain, although I believe some English-language translations were sold there, but they do not seem to have been especially popular.

Other Foreign Books in America and Britain

We believe the same factors were at play in the marketing of other foreign literature (German, Italian, Spanish, and other) in the United States and Britain. Interesting some of the best known stories about foreign countries are book written in English about those countries. Some popular books are certainly written by foreign writer like Johanna Spyri's Heidi . But many have been written in English. A good example here is Mary Mapes Dodge's Dutch story Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates .

Signe de Piste

A good example of French children's literature which was rarely translated into English and marketed in America was Signe de Piste. This was a series of rollicking boys' adventures. They are a collection of books written mostly for boys. The books usually portray young boys (between 12 and 16 years) and very often Boy Scouts in all kinds of exciting adventures. As they are written in French, we know little about them. The cover's always have exciting illustrations by various French artists. Pierre Joubert did many of them. The covers suggest that there were many school series or a variety of fictional adventure stories. Hopefully our French readers can provide us more information about Signe de Piste books they read and enjoyed as boys. Some of the illustrations have realistic depictions of clothing. Others are highly romanticized, perhaps drawn to appeal to a French boy's spirit of adventure. I think an American boy looking at them may have judged a few to be a little on the "wild" side.

Literary Comparison

One HBC reader writes, "In my opinion, it is to bad, that more French children's literature has not been translated into English, because it is much better than what I have seen written in English (similar type of story). Somehow, I think that American and the British authors lacked imagination and/or style. I believe the British preferred stories with kids in boarding school and American with Cowboys. The Scout movement seemed stronger in France and Germany: odd since Baden-Powell was British." [Lafrance]


Lafrance, Christine. E-mail, October 6, 2002.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: October 6, 2002
Spell checked: October 6, 2002
Last updated: October 10, 2002