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Stop Americanizing imported English language books: 08/08/16

An example of an illustration from Small Change for Stuart completely altereed for the US version

Dear publishers of children's literature — stop bastardizing the perfectly good English already contained within the pages of the books. Children in the United States speak a rich and varied version of English. Discounting the numerous languages children grow up speaking in their homes besides American English, they still also grow up with a rich language full of regional differences.

We wouldn't expect a book to be simplified for other readers across the country if it's:

  • Set in New Orleans and has bits of Cajun in it
  • Set in Los Angeles and has some Spanish
  • Features an Iranian family and uses some Persian
  • Is set in Hawaii and uses some Hawaiian

I could go on, but I think you get my point.

Original written note on the left. Americanized version on the right.

I could go on. We're a nation with eight major dialects and numerous sub dialects. We're not a homogenous version of English. We're not so different from any other version of English that we can't understand books published in English in other English speaking countries.

Yet, publishers of children's books insist on Americanizing books they import. The u from some words disappears (neighbour becomes neighbor). Streets change names from the High Street to Main Street. It's not like we're incapable of reading books with non-American English. Look at Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. It ironically has more British English in it than all of the Harry Potter books combined.

Original cover on the left. American cover on the right.

A recent book I read is a perfect example of the weird ways children's books are butchered to make the "acceptable" to an American audience. The version I read was Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery & Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans. This version has a 2016 copyright date. In reality, it was published in 2011 as Small Change for Stuart: Magic Mystery, and a Very Strange Adventure.

Original cover on the left. American cover on the right. The original title is perfect for the book. It's a pun that defines what Stuart wants more than anything (to be taller because he's tired of being teased for being short) and what helps him (a pile of small change which leads him on a magical adventure).

A map created for the American version of the book. Note Main Street and the gas station. That should be the High Street and the petrol station.

Despite the weird, nonsensical, unnecessary alterations to the book, I still rated it high. The story is still there and it's still delightful. In this case, the Americanization didn't destroy the book but it can. Take for instance the first Harry Potter book. It's a philosopher's stone. It's the same, dangerous, scary ass thing that Edward and Alphonse Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist are first searching for and then desperately trying to prevent the creation of as they learn its true nature. Many kids that start with Harry Potter go onto read or watch FMA. How exactly is Scholastic helping children by changing the title?

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