For the bookish among us, introducing children to literature is undoubtedly one of parenthood’s great treasures. For the pretentious, the aspirational, and the Europhiles, sharing European literature with children is doubly delightful.
Of course, much of the European-derived children’s literature is beautifully rendered, with lovely illustrations and buoyant text. Much of this literature is nothing short of gloriously gorgeous with or without translation.
Yet. Occasionally in the search for high-quality foreign-derived children’s literature, we lay our hands on something…different. Some books are delightful in the original, but don’t fly cross-culturally. Some are subject to the hackings of third-rate translators who lack the chops to do this type of work justice.
Poor translation is a tricky thing. It’s almost wrong to say that the book itself is bad, because the original text may have been quite something. And it’s not the fault of the author, really; anyone–even my beloved Mr. Sendak–would suffer at the hands of a poor translator. But to quote the great fictional character Cosmo Castorini, that don’t excuse nothin’.
The book I’m lambasting today is the horribly titled Sam Is Not a Loser, a book composed by Thierry Robberecht and Philippe Goossens, a Belgian author-and-illustrator duo. Published in English by Clarion Books in 2006, this is one book that is unreadable on the basis of its title alone. You don’t even have to have a child named Sam to find it patently objectionable.
Maybe I came of age in an era of good feelings and overwrought political correctness, under the heavy hand of Tipper Gore’s influence, but I’m fairly certain that “loser” is not a word we want to introduce to a population of early readers.
I suppose that the editorial staff at Clarion didn’t get the memo: we don’t *say* “loser”, even to say that a child (or in the case of this book, an anthropomorphic animal of unknown derivation) is not a loser.
I have no idea what Sam Is Not a Loser is about, or even what sort of animal he is (Cat? Dog? Coyote? Honestly, you’d have to be an animal biologist who moonlights as a psychic to determine this cartoon’s species, but that’s an entirely different conversation.) From my standpoint, this book is unreadable on its face.
Sam may not be a loser, but he is certainly lost in translation.