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Posted by Tom, November 11, 2014

Divided by a common tongue

The male Red Cardinal

This afternoon Kate and I have been occupied with finding EXACTLY the right renditions – from the many, many versions that exist – of The Wheels on the Bus on YouTube.

Specifically, we’ve been looking for versions which use the British version of the tune, and separate versions using the subtly-but-significantly-different American melody (sing it to yourself and see if you can tell).

We need them to send to a composer, who’ll record versions that we can then use ourselves (and that we own, rather than the Youtube ones, which are just for inspiration) for the Stories Aloud recording in our upcoming Sing Along With Me board book, illustrated by Yu-hsuan Huang.

Normally we don’t have to worry about this British/American divide for books with our Stories Aloud audio, but this is a sort of unusual case: in this instance, we’re also recording a version for our American partners Candlewick, who’ll publish the US edition of the book… and unlike most of our Stories Aloud titles, which use originally-composed music as a title tune, for this book we’re recording a well-established song which has a different tune in Britain and America.

It’s an interesting reminder of the challenge we sometimes face when selling books to the US. There’s so much which the British and American markets have in common that it’s often easy to be fooled into thinking that they are the SAME market… but of course this is not the case: they are, in truth, two entirely distinct markets which simply overlap, perhaps more often than others do, but nonetheless, with very specific and unique sets of cultural and social conventions.

It’s something that we’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently, as we found ourselves facing the same challenge with one our upcoming, winter-y Can You Say it Too books by illustrator Seb Braun, Can You Say it Too? Jingle! Jingle! The plan for this book was for a robin to feature on the cover… until we learnt that, in the US, the robin is a very different bird, which heralds the start of spring, rather than winter: their iconic winter bird is, we have learnt, the red cardinal.

The “internationalisation” of books – the problem of appealing simultaneously to many markets, which publishers are increasingly finding to be a commercial imperative – is something that we’ve written about before, and it’s a challenge that never goes away. But learning about these different cultural conventions – and finding ways of accommodating them – is also one of the things that ensure that working in children’s publishing is never boring!