I just came across an article in Voice of American online (5/24/07) entitled "New Project Brings America's Favorite Children's Books to Young Arab Readers"
This article reports that Scholastic has developed a project called "My Arabic Library," wherein 7 million copies of translated and cultural modified books were sent to North Africa and the Middle East. This project got going in 2005, and has apparently been very well recieved.
Quoting from the VOA article: "Scholastic's Carol Sakoian says My Arabic library encourages the love of learning. Arab educators were involved in choosing the titles and making changes to some of the books to adapt to cultural differences. "They had to be approved book by book, page by page, illustration by illustration by four Middle Eastern Ministries of Education," Sakoian says. "Arab educators were a little careful, they were worried that this was somehow propaganda from America. It was not."
It was, however, funded by the State Department, who perhaps were thinking outside the book, as it were. I am all in favour of getting books out to everyone in the world who wants them, and I wish I could just have happy thoughts about my government doing a Nice Thing. But why aren't we sending books to Sub-Saharan Africa? or to inner city schools here whose library budgets are being slashed due to the government's budget priorities?
I also find it troubling that the books were modified so as to become "more acceptable." The idea of a panel of individuals having the power to pass judgement on "acceptability" is very disquieting. The modifications mainly seem to have been tampering with the illustrations; ie, adding long sleeves to girls' dresses (although it is not clear to what extent the text of the various books may have been altered). But the fact of the matter is, American girls wear short sleeves, and to pretend otherwise distorts reality.
Here's the Arabic Heidi (who actually may well have worn long sleeved dresses while frisking about in the Alps):
Here's a link to the books chosen for translation, an interesting list, and not exactly what I would call "America's favorite children's books."