Paris in Children’s Books
For a whiff of the Foreign . . .
* * * * *
For a whiff of the Foreign, film makers often turn to France and especially Paris. The same is true in children’s films, from “Ratatouille” to “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” And the same is true in children’s books. Here, are five children’s stories (some classic, some recent) that feature Paris. Here, as well, are two guidebooks should you travel there with the young in tow.
Madeline. By Ludwig Bemelmans. Viking: $7.99 (paperback). A classic. Madeline lives in old house in Paris with twelve other girls; but while they stay in two straight lines, Madeline often deviates: teetering gymnastically on the edge of bridge, for example, and having her appendix removed. In pictures that seem both moderne and child-like, Ludwig Bemelmans tells the now well known story of the insouciant little girl who gives hell to Miss Clavel.
Eloise in Paris. By Kay Thompson; drawings by Hilary Knight. Simon & Schuster: $18.00 (Hardcover). Eloise, you will remember, is a diva-in-training who lives in New York in the Park Plaza Hotel and depends upon room service. In this, the second and my favorite book of the series, a cablegram arrives from her mother telling her to come to Paris; so, Eloise and Nanny pack their 37 pieces of luggage and board a transatlantic airplane. When they arrive, the landlady pointedly asks whether she is the “enfant terrible” and the little girl aptly responds, “Je suis ELOISE.” Besides madcap adventures, what follows is hilariously bad advice for those visiting Paris: including the recommendation that if you want to cross the streets and through heavy traffic surrounding the Arc de Triomphe, “Simply walk across and they will stop for you.” The comic hauteur of Hilary Knight’s sketches feature a plucky child who thinks nothing of being photographed by Richard Avedon, sharing an outdoor café with Lena Horne, and having a dress made by Christian Dior.
This is Paris. By M. Sasek. Universe: $17.95 (hardcover). A “retro” offering, This is Paris was first published in 1958 as the first in a series of wonderful and whimsical travel books for children created by Miroslav Sasek; they are now available again from Universe Publishing. Its opening words are revealing: ”There are ten million people living here in the capital of France, one big river–the Seine–dozens of monuments, dozens of churches, dozens of museums–and thousands of cats” and Sasek goes on to mentions the grocer’s cats (Kiki, Joseph, and Rita). He alternates, in other words, between the grand and small: We learn about the Cathedral of Notre Dame but also the nearby bird market, we hear about the grand boulevard known as the Champs-Élysées but also the garden at the end where you can ride a donkey, and we visit the Luxembourg Gardens but also a cemetery for dogs. Equally significant, we meet a waiter named Marcel and a policeman named Monsieur Dupont, see how different postal boxes are in France, and shop among bookstalls set up along the Seine. The graphic style of this book wonderfully recalls cartoons associated with the “Pink Panther” films where a gendarme chases a robber identifiably attired in a black beret, mask, red scarf, and striped sailor’s jersey.
Paris in the Spring with Picasso. By Joan Aeolic; illustrated by Marjorie Prizeman. Schwartz and Wade: $17.99 (hardcover). Envy is the reader’s likeliest reaction to Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast where he recounts his life in Paris in the 1920’s. Everyone interesting–the leading lights in literature, theater, painting and fashion–knew each other then and met at Gertrude Stein’s weekly salons. In Paris in the Spring with Picasso, Joan Aeolic succumbs to this envy and imagines a soirée at Stein’s apartment and with her friends (including Pablo Picasso, Alice B. Toklas, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Max Jacob). In lively and colorful drawings, Marjorie Priceman provides the perfect artwork for this story.
Everybody Bonjours! By Leslie Kimmelman; illustrated by Sarah McMenemy. Knopf: $16.99 (hardcover). Sometimes there seems an identifiable style for illustrations in children’s books about Paris: part playful and pastel version of Picasso’s sketches, part sidewalk chalk paintings, part Bemelmans’ Madeline. You can revisit that recombinant style in McMenemy’s pictures for this story about a family’s tour of Paris. Told in sing-song verse, this travelogue features Notre Dame, the Bastille, and other landmarks. Thankfully, these Americans Abroad also discover crêpes before their plane departs Charles De Gaulle Airport.
Around Paris with Kids: 68 Great Things to do Together in the City and Beyond. By Emily Emerson Le Moing. Fodor’s: $11.00 (paperback)
These two guide books are sensitive to the fact that the interests of young travelers do not always coincide with those of their adult companions. While the Impressionist paintings at the Museé d’ Orsay may wow the mature, renting a toy sailboat at the Luxembourg Gardens is simply more fun for the younger set. While children may not be impressed by the Louvre and the Mona Lisa, they may never forget Berthilon and its world famous ice-cream. Here are two good guide books with practical information about traveling in Paris with kids along with itineraries for dozens of walks. Around Paris with Kids is a paperback easily sized to fit a pocket, while City Walks with Kids amounts to a deck of oversized playing cards, so that you need only travel with one or two when you’re out for the day. Bon voyage.
* * * * *
- A version of this essay originally appeared in Parents’ Choice (December 2010).
- There’s a new HBO Documentary about Hilary Knight and Eloise.
- While traveling in Paris and in France, this author is sometimes afflicted by “foreign accent syndrome”–a real problem–that leaves him speaking like Maurice Chevalier.
- Traveling in Brittany, I had to mail books back to the U.S. Unfortunately, my French is INEXCRABLE. I wanted to send the books by the cheapest rate but–as I stood in line Saturday morning at the post office in Brest–I couldn’t remember the word for “oceanliner.” Too soon it was my turn, so reaching for the missing noun’s equivalent, I hastily constructed a sentence and asked the clerk whether I might send this package non “por avion” but (je préfère) “por corsair.” “Yes,” the clerk responded in perfect English, “but it will arrive in the Sixteenth Century.”
- Ludwig Bemelmans decorated the bar in the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, and visitors can find many “Madeline” references on the murals (see picture below). One afternoon, besides the bartender and myself, there were only two other people there–one of whom was Tommy Lee Jones, talking rodeo.