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Eight “classic” teenage experiences that don’t translate to readers outside the US

Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
By Thu-Huong Ha
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Pep rallies and prom queens, nerd kings and emo girls. Band. Through movies and music, the American high school experience has been exported far and wide.

But when it comes to fiction from the United States, a leader in book production worldwide, there are some topics that simply don’t translate.

On Dec. 7 in New York, children’s books scouts and agents discussed the topics they struggle to sell to people who buy rights for American books in other markets. The discussion took place at Global Kids Connect, a one-day industry event run by Publishers Weekly. Ginger Clark, a literary agent at Curtis Brown; Kelly Farber, who runs an international literary scouting agency; Rachel Hecht, who runs a children’s scouting agency; and Allison Hellegers, a director at a rights agency, spoke about trends in what non-US territories buy from the States.

There are a few topics and subjects that they struggle with, they said. Farber has found that in China, books about ghosts, or stories dealing with death are a challenge. And across markets, “no cheerleaders,” they all agreed.

The agents and scouts rattled off a few American pastimes that simply required too much explanation to be interesting to international buyers. These included:

  • babysitters
  • debutants
  • cheerleaders
  • the pressure of paying for college
  • science fairs
  • big school musicals
  • basketball
  • American football

The list is a generalization of course, and there are clear exceptions. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, a massive 11-book franchise about a sarcastic middle-school wuss named Greg, who complains about school bullies, country clubs, and trick-or-treating, has become an international phenomenon. As Hecht told Quartz, “Some stories transcend.” The appeal of Greg’s particular brand of wimpiness and irreverence, it would seem, is universal.

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