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Bridging the two solitudes : translated French-Canadian children’s literature from 1900 to 2004 Cobban, Michelle

Abstract

In Canada, where only 18% of the population is bilingual in English and French, translation should be an essential part of Canadian literature, and research on translation should be an essential part of research on Canadian literature. In the field of Canadian children’s literature, however, research on translation has been minimal. There has not been a significant, in-depth overview of translated Canadian children’s literature since 1987, and since then, much has changed. This study updates the current knowledge of Canadian children’s books that have been translated from French into English and published in Canada from 1900 to 2004. It compiles a comprehensive list of the translated French-Canadian children’s books held by Library and Archives Canada and analyses characteristics of the books in order to identify historical and contemporary trends in translated French-Canadian children’s literature. The study identifies 678 translations, observing that the annual number of translations has increased fairly steadily since 1900, peaking in 2001 and decreasing dramatically since then. The majority of translations are picture books and illustrated nonfiction, with other genres like novels, drama, and short stories figuring much less prominently, and poetry not being translated at all. Series have played a significant role in translation, particularly the Caillou series, which makes up over 12% of the translations in this study. Overall, Canadian publishers have tended to be cautious, publishing well-known French-Canadian authors, illustrators, and series almost exclusively, rather than taking risks on unfamiliar authors or challenging themes. Translations by English-Canadian publishers, who had historically published the majority of English translations, have decreased steadily since 1988, while translations by Quebec publishers increased from the 1970s to 2001, when they also began to decrease. The relatively low popularity of translated books in the English language market, coupled with Canadian publishers’ increasing reliance on the American market, as well as inconsistent government support for translations, has left French-Canadian children’s literature in a state of crisis. As a result, the number and diversity of translated French-Canadian children’s books are limited; this is a particular concern for anglophone Canadians, who have no other way to experience French-Canadian children’s literature except in translation.

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