Ten French Children’s Books – that are available in English!

Author of the hilarious The Royal Wedding Crashers and The Royal Babysitters, Clementine Beauvais has shared with us at Lovereading4kids, her 10 of the best French Children’s books translated into English…

 

Have you ever heard me complain about the fact that hardly anything ever gets translated into English from other countries in the world? No? Well, you’ve probably never sat down with me for more than ten minutes. I should probably go on strike and demonstrate and burn cars about it, but maybe it’s better to take things more positively and think about the children’s books… that do get translated!

 

Today, I’m going to focus on French children’s books translated into English – because 1) I’m French, and 2) my new Very British book, The Royal Wedding-Crashers, takes place in a place a litteul bit like France. It’s called Francia. Any resemblance, etc. So, which Francian books would my little Pepino, Holly and Anna read, if they had the time to read (as opposed to flying across the city, running around catacombs, and being almost-beheaded)?

 

Well, there’s the classics, of course, but I won’t go on about Astérix, Babar, the Little Prince and Tintin (Belgian, not French, I know!), or even Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Hervé Tullet’s Press Here, or Jean-Luc Fromental and Joëlle Jolivet’s 365 Penguins, because you already know about those. What else is there? Here’s a highly subjective list of gems.

  1. I can’t wait, by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch. Black and white figures, a red thread, a life story. An Amazon review hysterically warns us that ‘it’s not for children!!!’, so please give it to children.
  2. De Zert Island, by Claude Ponti. One of the rare translations in English of ‘the’ master of French picturebook art. Not his best, but beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a perfect introduction to Ponti’s world, a sprawling, quirky, phenomenally detailed universe of monsters and hybrids, of things turned animal and humanoid plants. (Picturebook)
  3. The Aldebaran series, by Leo. Brazilian-born comic artist Leo, who lives in France and writes in French, is the author of one of my favourite series, Aldebaran. It is the thrilling and sensitive maturation tale of a young girl, Kim, on a faraway planet from which all contact with the Earth has been cut. The ecosystem is carefully researched, beautifully precise. (YA, explicit sex scenes)
  4. Daniel Pennac beyond The Rights of the Reader. There have been some English translations of Pennac’s always touching, discreetly radical tales for children: his animal tales, The Eye of the Wolf and Dog (MG), and the story of his childhood School Blues (YA/ Adult), which also gives a damning account of the French educational system and its treatment of those who don’t ‘succeed’.
  5. Zebedee’s Balloon, by Alice Brière-Haquet and Olivier Philipponneau. Zebedee’s got a balloon, which he takes everywhere. But one day it flies away… A gorgeous picturebook for very young readers, with delicate wood cuts, about what we lose and what we gain when the comfort blankets of childhood are taken away. (Picturebook)
  6. Blue is the Warmest Colour, by Julie Maroh. The comic which inspired the film by Abdellatif Kechiche (Maroh later said she didn’t endorse the adaptation). Teenager Clémentine (what a lovely name!) falls in love with Emma, whose haunting blue hair is the Ariadne’s thread in the otherwise grayscale graphic novel. I find both comic and film outstanding and heartbreaking. (YA, explicit sex scenes)
  7. Catherine Certitude, by Patrick Modiano. Andersen translated Modiano’s only children’s book after he got the Nobel Prize. I don’t know how many times as a child I read and reread this poetic story of a little girl and her father, whose worlds become blurry – and dreamlike – every time they take off their glasses. (MG)
  8. Toby Alone, by Timothée de Fombelle. I’ll just leave you with the first sentence: ‘Toby was one and a half millimetres tall, not exactly big for a boy his age. Only his toes were sticking out of the hole in the bark where he was hiding.’ Yes, I know you want it now. Good. And it’s translated by Sarah Ardizzone, who is arguably the most brilliant translator of French children’s literature into English at the moment. (MG)
  9. My Brother Simple, by Marie-Aude Murail. It is an absolute scandal that there isn’t more translated into English from the Queen of French Teenage Literature. Her classic Oh, Boy!, published in 1989, was far ahead of its time in describing illness and homosexuality with incredible sensitivity and laugh-out-loud humour. Her masterpiece is Miss Charity, a fictionalised biography of Beatrix Potter. My Brother Simple is arguably less radical, but it’s the only available one in English while we wait for the rest of her works to be translated (HINT, HINT). (YA)
  10. My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World, by Gilles Bachelet. It’s a picturebook featuring, as you can see on the cover, a cat, but that cat isn’t a normal cat. It’s an extremely silly cat. (Picturebook)

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