You Dirty, Filthy…Beaver!

It’s not often that a news item makes me laugh out loud, but this one sure did. French publisher Flammarion has caused a furor on this side of the pond with a children’s book by author Marc Cantin. The setting for the book is Quebec, and the main character is a beaver named Kebec who can swear with the best of ’em. “Tabernacle” is his word of choice, emphatically (“Taberna-a-a-cle!”) uttered in a moment of frustration. The use of the term is not trivial in a children’s book; it’s like saying the F-word.

Like any good New Brunswick–born-and-raised girl, I pack an arsenal of French Canadian swear words, but I didn’t realize that these words, which are sacred words used “in vain” against the Catholic church, are not known in France. The editor must be feeling pretty sheepish right about now after having violated one of the most basic tenets of editing children’s books: get the vocabulary level right.

What else should be considered when editing a children’s book? Successful picture books can be difficult to create because they should appeal to both the book buyer — parents and extended family and friends — and kids. Because children’s books may not have a lot of text, every word choice is important. The book itself must appeal visually to the intended age group, with colour being an important factor. Illustrations can enhance the story with details not in the text. Each and every character and action must drive the story forward to keep the young reader engaged.

But who knows — Flammarion may just have a winner on its hands if the book develops a cult-like following. It could sit on the shelf next to that other pseudo children’s book, Go the Fuck to Sleep.


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