Sunday, August 27, 2017

Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn: Comparing English and French Editions

L'Arbragan won the French language TD Canadian Children's Literature Award in 2016. Created by Montreal-born geologist and artist Jacques Goldstyn, it's a sweet, imaginative picture book about an introverted child who is content with his status as a loner, and his close friendship with the immense oak tree that he calls Bertolt. The quiet, expressive artwork captures feelings of joy and sadness. There are delightful details, like the way the child's toque resembles an acorn.

I was interested in the differences between the original Quebecois edition (La Pasteque) and the American English translation by Claudia Zoe Bedrick (Enchanted Lion Books). As you can see in the top photo, even the cover choice is different. I guess the winter scene captures the "mon pays c'est l'hivers" spirit of Canada, while the summer scene is more relatable for south-of-the-Canadian border readers.

- Gloves become mittens in the English text (even though they clearly look like gloves in the illustrations). I can only guess that the reason might be that children are more likely to wear mittens than gloves?

- Hand-lettered text versus a serif font. This changes the effect: the former emphasizing the individualistic personality of the child, the latter giving it the look of books designed for emerging readers.

- White page background versus a buff background. Again, it changes the effect or mood. White adds a crispness to the contrast with the colours in the delicate illustrations, and is particularly effective in the snow scenes. Buff gives more of a nostalgic feel.

- Text placement. In the example shown above, this subtly changes the feeling evoked by the illustration: instead of walking into fresh unmarked territory, the child has something solid below his feet.

Two pages are entirely cut from the English edition. They show some of things the boy can see from his perch high up in Bertolt. I guess a priest peeping at his sunbathing neighbour is considered too risqué for certain audiences. Also cut: an old woman stealing from someone else's cherry tree, a graffiti artist at work, and a "lawn maniac" with a giant canister of weedkiller spraying a dandelion.

Both editions have the same gorgeous endpapers, created by Goldstyn. The most disappointing difference in the English edition is its didactic tone, which is not present in the original. I prefer the original, but the translated edition is almost as nice. For ages 6 and up.

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