Becoming a picturebook reviewer in an age of social media has demonstrated to me one thing. Almost nothing is universal. Picturebooks are no exception. It’s not something the average reader questions a lot, ‘is this book famous in other countries?’ But after spending a few years making friends with picturebook reviewers around the world I’ve learned that the kinds of picturebooks that are popular in each place varies quite a lot.
Look I could write love letters to Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko all the live long day, and I have. Actually one time I met Martchenko at a party and I almost passed out, he was quite dashing. I’ve never been so starstruck. But I’ll spare you at the moment and get to the point, how, in the world are these books not famous everywhere? Certainly they are household staples here in Canada. For good reason, they’re unsurpassable.
But I’m not just going to dismiss this as a matter of lack of taste. I really want to know, why aren’t Munsch books as famous in other countries? They’re all humorous, is that the issue? Is Canadian humour-an ephemeral concept to try and define-fundamentally different from humour elsewhere, and if so then what is it? Is Canadian humour too ridiculous? Is it all the snow (they don’t all have snow…)? OR is it that Munsch books avoid lessons and morals? Is it the purpose of kidlit what makes them less appealing to people elsewhere? Do Canadian families just want to read for fun, where as elsewhere, families read for other purposes?
When you take a look at the most famous Aussie kidlit, they tend to heavily lean towards books about Australian animals. Which makes sense, it’s Australia. Are Australian readers more interested in Animal stories than elsewhere? Or did they not gain popularity elsewhere because readers in other parts of the world don’t have wombats and kangaroos?
When it comes to style and mood how does that play into this? Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is another fixture in every North American kindergarten room, but that’s not so in the UK? Why? Clearly I have more questions than answers today.
When we look picturebooks that have ‘made it’ worldwide. Is there a theme? What connects them, is it all random? Or is it something more? “The Hungry Caterpillar” it’s simple, and carries themes of change, of growth, of hope. That’s pretty universal. But is it any more universal than any other of the thousands of books that are beloved in their home country and don’t make it abroad?