picture books about france, part one

from Chansons de France Pour Les Petits Français by M.B. de Monvel (1979)

Bonjour, mes enfants!

Have you been good or bad this summer? Pretending to be good, but maybe a little naughty on the side?

C’est d’accord. You will probably like your punishment:

Oui, a handful of la punitions, those famous butter cookies from the Poilâne Bakery in Paris! Pierre Poilâne’s grandmother used to play a game with her grandchildren. She called them over to seemingly punish them, but offered a handful of these cookies instead. Today, if you visit any of the Poilâne bakeries, you will find a basket of free punitions by the register. Très délicieux!

To go with your cookies today, how about a few picture books set in Paris? It’s the best way to visit from the comfort of your window seat, hammock, or porch swing. There are funny animals, rollicking adventures, a few artistes, even some crêpes. If you’ve never been to Paris, you will experience the joie de vivre of this great city and see some of its most famous landmarks. And if you’ve already visited La Ville-Lumière (“The City of Light”), these stories will touch your heart and make you yearn to go back again.

Today, we are all honorary Parisiens — so let’s put on our bérets and striped shirts. It’s a lovely day on the Left Bank!

LA LA ROSE by Satomi Ichikawa (Philomel, 2004). Our first stop, Luxembourg Gardens. La La Rose the pink rabbit tells about the time she went there with her little girl, Clementine, and got lost. Things were fine at first. Clementine and her brother Pierre had a lot of fun at the playground and carousel. But when Grandma rushes them over to see the puppet show, La La Rose falls out of Clementine’s backpack. Oh no! 

She has some rather unpleasant “adventures” as a result: tossed into a trash can, tumbling down stairs, thrown high into the air and dragged from the fountain by a dog. Will she ever be reunited with her beloved Clementine? With a simple narrative and dreamy watercolor spreads, Ichikawa captures the special bond between a child and her favorite stuffed animal, while giving us a peek at the beautiful gardens she clearly loves (layout of LG on the endpapers).

A SPREE IN PAREE by Catherine Stock (Holiday House, 2004). Ooh-la-la with an uproarious ha ha ha! What happens when you take a truckload of geese, pigs, sheep, geese, cows, goats, pigeons and chickens on a vacation to Paris? Bien sûr, a lot of mayhem with your escargots! Monsieur Monmouton, an amiable farmer, has always wanted to see Paris, but his animals won’t let him go without them. Eh bien! Once these barnyard baguettes hit the city streets, widespread mayham ensues — the goats eat the flowers in Luxembourg Gardens, the sheep check out the latest fashions, the cows gaze at paintings of grazing cows at the Louvre, the chickens go the Follies Bergère, and the pigs — well, the pigs enjoy a six-course dinner at a three-star restaurant. Stock’s lively (livestock ☺) narrative and frenetic, free-spirited watercolors perfectly capture the hilarity and non-stop chaos of this living-the-high-life Paris fiasco. Hold onto your bérets!

MAMA’S PERFECT PRESENT by Diane Goode (Dutton, 1996). Two adorable children, who happen to be picky shoppers, search the elegant shops of Paris for just the right gift for their mother’s birthday. The real star of the show is their dachshund, Zaza, a seemingly innocent, perky little creature who wreaks havoc at each stop. Though the children in the story may be totally oblivious to the overturned flower vases, fallen mannequins, and tripped up pastry chef, young readers will giggle over the sequence of unexpected surprises, beautifully rendered on double page spreads. Goode’s watercolor paintings in muted tones capture the sophisticated ambience of the city, and Mama’s present, as it is being created by the children, is indeed perfect. A special treat at the end for George Seurat fans.

BONAPARTE by Marsha Wilson Chall, pictures by Wendy Anderson Halperin (DK Ink, 2000). Et maintenant, my favorite French dog story. When his boy is sent away to boarding school, clever canine Bonaparte takes to the streets of Paris to find him. He trails Jean Claude all the way to La School d’Excellence, only to discover their firm rule of “No Dogs Allowed.” Humpf. Not deterred in the least, clever Bonaparte comes up with several droll disguises to gain entrance to the school, none of which is successful. Only when the Regents discover Jean Claude has run away, do they finally recognize Bonaparte’s immeasurable talents. Paired with Halperin’s exquisitely detailed, magnificent pencil and watercolor illos, this warm, touching story celebrates the joyful bond between boy and dog. Spreads are beautifully framed with borders of architecturally inspired patterns, the little scenes of Paris are enchanting, and the sprinkling of tiny French pastries is rapture personified.

METRO CAT by Marsha Diane Arnold, pictures by Jack E. Davis (Golden Books, 2001). Sophie, a rather spoiled feline who graces the cover of Fancy Cat Magazine, must learn to fend for herself when her limousine makes a fast turn and her cage sails right into the middle of the Metro’s morning rush hour. The “swirling sea of shoes” rushing hither and yon is quite a contrast to her lap-of-luxury life, where she is served trout for breakfast every morning, wiling away the hours napping in her sunroom or playing in a catnip garden. She soon becomes adept at dodging all the slippers, sandals and shoes, and even scrounges bits of baguette, croissants, and crêpes that have fallen to the ground. When she ascends to street level, she meets a down-on-his-luck but kind street musician. The two soon pair up, bringing music and dancing to the Metro. Sophie finds a new friend and discovers the joys of the simple life. Davis’s vibrant, cartoony illos rendered in rich hues extend the narrative with its touches of humor, details of street life, and enchanting array of shoe fashions. Title page includes a fetching illo of Sophie eyeing an éclair. Très bien!

CRÊPES BY SUZETTE by Monica Wellington (Dutton, 2004). The most delicious way to tour Paree is by nibbling on a freshly made crêpe at every stop. In this cleverly conceived mixed media collage travelogue/homage, we follow Suzette as she sells her crêpes to people all over the city. The buyers all look a little “familiar,” having emerged from famous paintings by the likes of Chagall, Picasso, van Gogh, and Matisse. The illos, combining actual photographs of famous landmarks with Wellington’s simple juxtaposed drawings, are fun and interesting, and the back matter (Glossary of French Words, Notes on the Pictures, Painting IDs) complete this nice introduction to Paris. Also included is a great map documenting Suzette’s stops, and of course, there’s a recipe for Suzette’s Crêpes! Mmmmmmm.

                   Crêpe Suzette by aveia.

Hope you enjoyed this little taste of Paris. Part Two coming soon!

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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