Of butterflies and other flying creatures

There is something mesmerizing about the work of Sara Fanelli. A couple of years ago, on one of our trips to the Tate modern gallery and its great bookshop, we came across her book called Mythical Monsters of Ancient Greece. At the time, my 6 year old daughter was obsessed with greek legends and in particular with Medusa. Mythical Monsters is no story book, but rather a fascinating catalogue of some of the creatures that my daughter had been reading about at the time, and she immediately decided that she wanted to take it home in order to have more time to look at the incredible details of each of these creatures. And I can tell she spent a lot of time looking at these fantastic collages and compositions.

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Some of the reviews written online about Mythological Monsters do not seem as captivated as we were, but we go back to our copy quite regularly and love it very much still! Come on, how can you not admire her flying creatures, I wonder?!

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Anyway, today I want to tell you about another of her books, First Flight whose narrative will no doubt charm any young reader. It is the story of a little butterfly who does not know how to fly and who desperately wants to learn. Unexperienced and at a loss, the little butterfly decides to consult the knowledgeable readers of a newspaper. Following the readers’ suggestions, butterfly travels by plane to faraway places to train with experts from the kite flying master Wing  in China to a very friendly ghost in Scotland.

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But every single attempt is a failure even if, for a few seconds or a couple of minutes butterfly manages to fly!

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In the end, it will be without even realising it that the little butterfly will manage to fly. On hearing her mother who is calling her, she decides to jump into her arms and soon comes to the conclusion that at last she can fly!

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This is an adorable story about dreams, tenacity and love. The final embrace and the genuine drawings at the beginning of the book made my 4 year son ask me tons of questions about trying and trying again, growing up, as well as drawing. So what better way to answer than to draw or paint butterflies, or to go out and fly a kite?

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For those interested in crafty activities with butterflies, why not try this simple paint&fold one? Hope you enjoy it, have fun!

 

 

Bonne nuit, mon amour!

Non, non, vous ne rêvez pas, je n’ai pas décidé de discuter de lectures plus adultes, au contraire je me suis dis que je n’avais pas assez de billets pour les tout petits, alors voilà mon mea culpa.

La couverture de Bonne nuit vous dit sans doute quelque chose et c’est normal parce que Soledad Bravi a un coup de crayon assez reconnaissable et que ses dessins apparaissent régulièrement dans la presse française. Cet album, une collaboration entre Bravi et Benoit Marchon, est simplissime mais craquant. Nous l’avons offert à pleins de bébés dans notre entourage et c’est toujours un franc succès. Après une première double page ou un bébé, bras grand ouverts, vous accueille accompagné d’un “bonne nuit mon amour!”, le livre égraine simplement tous les petits noms que nous utilisons pour appeler nos enfants, des plus classiques au plus inhabituels.

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Le format est parfait pour les petites mains, cartonné et résistant, avec un trou au centre qui laisse apparaître le visage souriant du petit bébé (au départ en pyjamas) qui change de page en page, à mesure que les petits noms défilent.

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Parce qu’enfant, j’ai été affublée par mes parents de bien des noms d’oiseaux et d’animaux, j’ai retrouvé  avec nostalgie au fil des pages un petit lapin et un chou (le gâteau, pas le légume!). J’ai aussi été surprise par certains de ces surnoms (mais je ne vous dirai pas lesquels, pour vous ménager la surprise); mes enfants en ont également trouvé certains cocasses! Et puis la fin est tellement mignonne qu’on ne peut pas résister et qu’on retourne avec plaisir à la première page…

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I’m afraid Soledad Bravi’s book Bonne nuit will be to a foreign speaker a bit like Marmite, you know the dark substance that many people love to spread on toast in England?

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You either love it because it is quirky, cute, and a fun way to wind down at the end of a long day, or you hate it because you find it utterly bizarre. Me? I love it and not only because it shows the richness of the French language. To me and my kids, it really is a feel good book, and one that we sometimes like to act out (if we do not read it before bedtime).

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The unconventional character of some of the names used in this book will often generate a good laugh. So I guess if you do not take things too seriously, this book is likely to appeal to you and your kids. In any case, it is a great way to polish your French and to revise your animal and bugs’s names. So, bonne nuit mes chatons!

Have you had your dose of Rabbityness today?

Now you are probably wondering what on earth this title means?!  And unless you know Jo Empson‘s work, the title of this post  will indeed remain obscure. Empson’s  illustrations are visually stunning and the cover was certainly what appealed to my son when his eye caught Rabbityness at the library

Rabbityness is the story of a very special rabbit who likes doing rabbity things such as hopping and burrowing.

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But unlike other rabbits, he also likes doing unrabbity things like painting and making music. And this is what makes him truly special. So special in fact that he fills the woods with colour and music, and makes all the other rabbits catch his happiness.

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But one day, rabbit disappears and the woods become quiet and grey, that is until the other rabbits find in the deep dark hole that he has left, a pile of things to inspire them to do unrabbity things too.

By remembering him, and by using the instruments and tools he has left, the rabbits fill the woods with colour and music, and feel happy again.

Now, expect questions when you will be reading this book as the rabbit’s sudden and unexplained disappearance was puzzling to both my children. But I found it an interesting blank or void. You may want to discuss loss and pain, or some less abstract possible scenarios, this is your choice, and I definitely appreciate the freedom this book gives you in terms of where you want to take it.

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Because the end is colorful and full of joy, younger readers may even forget about the grey and somewhat scary episode in the middle of the story. But whatever you make of the plot, this is an explosion of colour, a great incentive to take your painting kit and (or) your favourite music outside and to enjoy it all together. Come on, you know cleaning up won’t be as bad if the painting is done outside! And if messiness is not your kind of thing, why not improvise a disco in the garden or the park? Happiness and joy do not need to be time or material intensive!

 

Rita et Machin à la plage, un duo d’enfer!

Vous ne partez pas en vacances cet été et votre progéniture vous réclame une sortie à la mer? Ou peut être êtes-vous coincé(e) à la maison à attendre une livraison ou une alcamie entre deux grosses averses et vos chers enfants n’ont rien trouvé de mieux que de vous faire tourner bourrique? Que faire? Ma solution: sortez quelques albums de Rita et Machin de vos étagères, et celui qui raconte leurs aventures à la plage en particulier! Vous allez leur en mettre plein les mirettes, je vous le garantie!

Rita et Machin à la plage fait partie d’une série de courts albums dessinés dans un esprit un peu BD par Jean-Philippe Arrou-Vignod et Olivier Tallec. Assez minimalistes avec leur coup de crayon noir, réhaussé de blanc et rouge, ils sont un vrai plaisir pour les yeux et les zygomatiques (vous savez ces petits muscles qui servent à rigoler et qu’on oublie souvent quand on essuie  ce qu’on appelle chez moi un épisode de ‘gronchonite aigue’?!).

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Dans ce volume au paysage balnéaire, nous sommes invités à suivre les aventures de Rita, une petite fille espiègle et son petit chien qui n’a pas de nom: Machin. Tous les deux aiment aller à la plage, soit. Mais ils ne savent pas s’accorder sur quoi y faire. Rita attend que Machin lui serve de valet et décide d’ignorer sa mine dubitative à la vue du maillot de bain qu’elle lui a tricoté exprès! En fait cette sortie est mal partie parce que Rita et Machin ont des envies bien différentes et pas vraiment envie de faire de compromis.

Rita attend qu’on la serve et qu’on lui obéisse au doigt et à l’oeil. Quant à Machin, il ne l’entend de ce ton là et décide, au vue des attaques répétées sur son château de sable, d’enfiler sa tenue de nageur de combat pour calmer les ardeurs de Rita, alias La Princesse Bikini.

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À l’issue d’un combat sans pitié (mais sans sable jeté) et de poursuites navales effrénées, un vainqueur voit le jour et demande réparation. Tout compte fait à la plage ou ailleurs, c’est toujours la même histoire, on joue et on papotte, on se dispute et on se bagarre.

Pour ceux qui voudraient lire d’autres titres, ou essayer un défi de lecture estivale pour jeunes lecteurs (7-8 ans), je ne peux que vous recommander le site de ces deux enseignantes, et leur rallye de lecture autour de la collection complète.

Comme en été nous sommes en mode détente, les accrochages entre ces deux personnages attachants nous servent plutôt de point de départ pour échanger sur le sujet des disputes et conflits. S’il pleut toujours, pourquoi ne pas lancer à vos enfants un défi ludique et leur proposer de construire un chateau de sable en lego-duplo ou pâte à modeler, ou de jouer au vendeur de glace? On n’a pas nécessairement besoin de partir à la plage pour se dépayser, avec un peu d’imagination, un parapluie comme parasol et des maillots de bain, on peut s’imaginer au soleil et se débarasser de la mauvaise humeur qui parfois assaille sa maison!

 

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Olivier Dallec is an expert at capturing the ups and downs of the dynamic exchanges between Rita, a mischievous little girl, and Whatsit (in the English version) her dog. When they decide to go to the beach, they  both know what they’d like to do, but will they agree? Rita wants to fly her kite  or rather fly Whatsit as her kite, and build a sandcastle destroy Whatsit’s sandcastle. As for Whatsit, he plans to eat yummy sticky donuts, and to nap all day in peace.

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You will have guessed by now that the clash brewing between these two ideals is at the chore of the book. In short, it is going to be a battle of the will between these two cheeky little characters. Who will win Princess Bikini or Captain Whatsit? You will only know if you read the book! We managed to track a copy in English at our library, so I guess it’s easily available in the UK and it is published in the US too, so you have no excuse (unless you need like Whatsit a big nap this very minute).

 

 

 

Need some sleep? You’re not the only one!

Sleep, that magic five letter word that parents and carers miss dearly in the first few weeks/months/years (choose the right answer) of their children’s life. Before I start this post proper, let me say first that it won’t contain any magic formula to make your little one sleep. It will however suggest a few  books you could read together before bedtime which are by their topic and nature excellent incentives to go to sleep and stop fighting about bedtime! No heavy preaching I promise, but gorgeous and inviting works to show your little ones how delightful sleeping can and should be.

We got Ill Sung Na‘s A Book of Sleep back in 2007 and it’s had a place by my kids’ bedside ever since. It is a charming and beautiful book describing how all animals  sleep at night, all but a little starring owl, who observes the sleepers, that is until the end of the book of course.

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Whether they sleep in peace and quiet like koalas against a tree, huddled close like penguins, or noisily like elephants, all seem so peaceful and happy once the sun comes up that ,after reading this book, no kid can possibly doubt the benefits of a good night sleep.

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The background is often a magnificent dark blue, the details on the pages like the fur, feathers, or skin of the various  animals are gorgeous, and the book is now available in a smaller and more study format so that the younger readers can handle it on their own with no risk of tearing a page. If your library does not own a copy, go on, give them a nudge and suggest they buy one.

Now Good Night Me, a collaboration between Andrew Daddo and Emma Quay, also focuses on one animal, a baby orangutan who, lying in bed, slowly but surely says good night  to his feet, his legs, his knees, etc, and thanks them for all the fun they provided during the day.

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This lovely routine and the little monkey’s monologue like ‘Shhh, mouth, no more questions. Just say goodnight’ perfectly match Quay’s tender illustrations. This is a wonderful celebration of this special moment when you tuck your child in bed and kiss them good night. If your child does not find Quay’s purple and blue pastels soothing, he will no doubt  relate to the typical childish poses adopted by this cheeky little monkey, like sucking his thumb and hiding under his sheets.

In brief, this is a perfect book  to learn how to relax before bedtime or to read curled up in bed together.

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The final book I want to present Susan Gal’s Night Lights is a also a visual treat! Written from the perspective of a little girl coming home from a bike ride with her mother, it describes her evening with one word per page, from their barbecue by the ‘firelight’ to the celebratory ‘candlelight’ of the dog’s birthday cake. The usual suspects are here again, like the ‘reading light’ and ‘night-light’ before the final starlight and moonlight shining over her bed.

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I love the 1950s retro vibe of Gal’s illustrations, and the fun and tender depiction of her adventures with her furry companion. My son loves the fact that with its one word per page (or double page) it takes no time to read, so I cannot use the excuse that it is too late to read. During the day, he loves making assumptions about the events and asking questions about the other creatures in the book including the raccoons and fireflies. It can trigger long conversations, believe me, so it’s better to read it a few times during the day before making it part of your evening selection! But give it a go, it is a lovely debut book and you can have a look by following this link if you want to.

If the science of sleep is something you’re interested in, I cannot recommend enough this brilliant post in Brain pickings and Rosie Blau’s article in Intelligent Life. Good night folks!

 

Aujourd’hui, on en voit de toutes les couleurs! or why nothing will ever beat messy play!

Que dire de ce livre si ce n’est qu’il est sur tous les plans à toute épreuve?! Dans l’ensemble je dirais que notre famille est plutôt respectueuse des livres que nous lisons. Lorsqu’ils étaient petits mes enfants ont, comme tous les autres, malmené ou machouillé des bouquins (SVP abstenez vous de me dire dans les commentaires que non, non, jamais vos têtes blondes n’ont gouté la cellulose de vos livres!) Nous avons bien eu une ou deux pages de Petit ours brun déchirée à l’occasion, mais pas plus. Toutes les couleurs d’Alex Sanders est un des premiers livres que j’ai lu à ma fille lorsqu’elle était bébé. Il est carré, cartonné, coloré mais pas criard, très résistant et nous l’avons donc lu en 8 ans et demi un nombre de fois incalculable!

J’ai beau le connaître par coeur, ce livre me met toujours de bonne humeur, peut être à cause de l’enthousiasme communicatif de Lulu le petit lapin au centre de l’histoire, ou peut être parce que je me reconnaît dans l’incorrigible maman qui oblige Lulu à sauter dans son bain, histoire de se débarbouiller.

Comme tous les jeunes enfants, Lulu déborde d’énergie et il s’en fiche bien d’être tout crotté!

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Ce qu’il aime ce sont les surprises qui l’attendent au tournant du chemin,

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et qui provoquent en cascade une avalanche de couleurs. Du vert sur son derrière, du marron sur ses pieds, du rouge sur sa bouche et du jaune sur ses mains.

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Au final c’est un arc en ciel de couleurs que nous offre Sanders, chose qu’il semble apprécier tout particulièrement ,comme dans sa série de livres intitulée Pop (le dinosaure multicolore) dont  vous pouvez lire une critique ici.

Et si après ça vous vous dîtes que j’exagère et que ce bouquin ne peut pas être si bon, je vous laisse juge mais je voudrais quand même conclure sur un lien et deux photos. La première est celle d’une peluche lapin utilisée par une enseignante et la seconde est un magnifique dessin de Lulu version enfant, vous voyez? Il n’y a pas que moi qui suis convaincue?!

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Il est pas beau ce Lulu tout cracra, allez avouez qu’il est craquant?!

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Now that you’ve already enjoyed the art, what else could I say to convince you that this is a great book (and that, even if you speak very little French)?! Alex Sanders has a talent for colours, simple design and facial expressions.  You know just by looking at Lulu’s mother that even if she does not like his getting messy, she can’t really be cross because of the joy and kindness he exudes!

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After all, he only got these flowers for her, right? Lulu is a fun little rabbit and the pleasure he gets from his adventures is irresistible. He will teach your kids in no time their colours and encourage them to get messy! Yeah!

In our house, a good day is a day where we’ve spent some time outside, either mucking about making mud-pies, gardening, or just chilling under the tent/reading nook we’ve installed in the shade of our plum tree, especially for these long summer days, So whether it is to read Toutes les couleurs or not, try to go out today, even for 5 or 10 minutes and enjoy rolling on the grass, spalshing in muddy puddles, eating summer berries or picking up wild flowers, because really isn’t it what summer is all about?

 

Want to forget the battle of mealtimes?

Rebecca Cobb‘s  illustrations summon the everyday with so much accuracy and tenderness that it is hard to resist them. Proof is that in the last 6 months, my son has borrowed Lunchtimes at least 3 or 4 times from the two nearby libraries. Now, if this is not a sign that we need to buy this book (or to get her new book The Something) I don’t know what is!

Because meal times can be a battle regardless of age, this simple story can be enjoyed by children as young as two years old. On the first two pages,  we see a little girl, engrossed in painting, who is happily focusing on colouring a crocodile. But her mother, because it is lunchtime, is having none of her ‘I’m too busy’ talk and sends her off to sit at the table. So what do you think she does?

Like a good girl, she sits down and waits, waits, and waits until she gets asked by a gentle looking crocodile, a woolf and a bear whether she is going to eat that yummy looking lunch. After explaining how disgusting children taste, they it eat all up and kindly thank her. Finally, she can go back to her activities, even if some rumbling noises tend to interrupt her otherwise joyfully busy afternoon.

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Now can you guess what happens at dinnertime? Not only does the little girl run to the table, but she also gobbles up her whole plate! The animals’ disappointed look is priceless and it makes my kids laugh every single time!

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This funny story made me think of one we read often by John Burningham  called Where’s Julius?  Julius is just as busy building a den, keeping hippopotamuses cool with buckets of water, or throwing snowballs in Russia, and his parents decide to go with his fantasy world rather than fight it.

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I love Burningham’s book because both parents cook in turn elaborate 3-course meals and carry on trays to Julius as if he was royalty! Besides after each delivery, there’s always a cheeky creature (monkey, goat or fish) to steal at least some of the meal!

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Granted these books won’t necessarily convince your child to eat everything you place on their plate, but they will show them that mealtimes can be pleasant opportunities to chat together and that they are not an obstacle to having ‘imaginary fun’ together.

Rebecca Cobb’s publisher has a lovely placemat available for you to use as a drawing prompt, if you ever needed one (my children are always happy to be scribbling away). I can just imagine how, once laminated, this could be used as a great prop to keep your little ones busy at the restaurant while one is waiting for their meal to arrive!

So all that’s left for me to do is to wish you good luck with the next meal(s) 😉

Who are these groovy elephants in my house? I blame the Elephantom!

In 2013,  the National Theatre created a new show for the Shed, a place where we had already seen a brilliant version of Romeo and Juliet.  Because we’d really enjoyed our experience in this venue, I was a bit sad that the busy festive season meant we could not see the Elephantom. At the time, I remember seeing the bright blue elephant on posters around town and thinking how joyously cheeky this giant pachyderm looked.

The show is based on Ross Collin’s book the Elephantom that I refrained from reading before the show. Why? Simply  because I  did not want us to have any expectations. That being said, it became clear that we were part of a minority once in the London New Theatre since most of the children around us not only knew the story very well, but some had even brought their favourite toy elephant(s)!

This show revolves around a little girl whose house becomes haunted by a big fat elephantom. At first, because her parents seem too busy and too self-absorbed, she is delighted to have a new companion. However things degenerate quickly and the elephant’s tricks start  to get her in trouble. Her parents, who are obviously incapable of seeing the elephantom, can only notice the havoc it causes and blame her. The family’s well-oiled morning routine is impeccably rendered by the live music and the actors’ impressive choreography. As a result, it is both a shock and a delight when things start to unravel as the elephant tries to pour tea over the mother’s head or steals the parents’s toasts. But the worst for the little girl and the best (for us anyway) is still to come since the elephantom invites his buddies for a crazy party which turns the house upside down!

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This fiesta had my children dancing on their seats to the tunes of Mc Hammer’s Can’t Touch This and Dee Lite’s Groove is in the Heart and  there were many other kids who, like them, could barely refrain from joining the four giant elephants dancing around the theatre!

The second part of the show, when the little girl gets her grandmother to help her deal with the increasingly disruptive and fast growing elephantom, was a little bit nebulous for my four year old son. He did not seem to understand why she was looking for a shop offering ghost removal services, or how the box she was to take home was going to help. My older daughter however loved seeing the little girl fly and jump over obstacles carried by the multi-talended actors/puppeteers.  She was full of questions about the making of the puppet and, once at home, we enjoyed watching this video showing the making of the show, the rehearsals, and the work that the actors have put in. And of course, since then we’ve been re-enacting the crazy disco and pretending we are big and clumsy elephants!

I can’t help but wonder but how my children did not even notice that there was barely any dialogue. Anyone (regardless of their language ability) could see this show and enjoy it thanks to Adam Pleeth’s live music, the brilliantly animated puppet and the magic character of this story. For another (happy) take on the show, read Sarah McIntyre’s post after her visit at the Shed, and expect at least another couple of posts about elephants on this blog in the near future.

La Tour Eiffel a des ailes, or the day the Eiffel Tower decided to take off

L’idée de départ de ce très chouette album grand format est simple. Un jour la tour Eiffel décide qu’elle  a envie, comme les touristes qui la prennent en photo à longueur de journée, de voir du pays. Elle décide alors d’attendre la nuit pour prendre la poudre d’escampette et découvrir les prairies de Normandie et la mer. Pas facile cependant de faire trempette quand on a un corps d’acier aussi lourd que 1500 éléphants et qu’on mesure 324 mètres! Et puis surtout il lui faut se dépècher après une nuit mouvementée pour réapparaître fidèle au poste dés 9h du matin et tenir jusqu’au soir du 14 Juillet qui se termine en fanfare sous les feux d’artifices.

Mymi Doinet and Aurélien Débat forment dans cet album un duo très efficace. Les illustrations sont pleines d’humour et les teintes bleues et grises évocatrices de l’architecture du centre de Paris. L’arc de triomphe (grogron), la fête nationale et les coureurs du tour de France donneront l’occasion aux lecteurs plus agés de discuter des symboles associés à la capitale et à la France plus généralement. Nathan propose même une fiche d’exploration-découverte très détaillée même si un peu scolaire à mon goût. L’histoire me donnerait plutôt envie de siffloter Paris s’éveille de Dutronc ou de revoir Playtime le superbe film  d’un autre Jacques célèbre (Tati).

Mes deux enfants adorent voir la tour Eiffel gambader dans les prairies et revenir presqu’incognito dans ses quartiers généraux. Même si la série s’adresse aux jeunes lecteurs, je pense que tout enfant de 3 ans (ou plus) peut apprécier les aventures loufoques et coquines de la dame de fer. Et qui sait peut être peut-on espérer une suite à ses aventures vues ses envies de prendre l’air?

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In this fun book the Eiffel Tower itches to go and visit places she’s never been to in France. So one night, she decides to run away to go for her first dip in the sea near the Normandie region. After jumping over the roofs of the city, she finally reaches her destination and enjoys a few hours of freedom (and some adventures) away from the capital city. But quick, quick she needs to get back to her day job before people notice that she has disappeared! She makes it just in time and dutifully stays put for the fireworks on Bastille day.

In this great album, your kid will learn fun facts about the Eiffel Tower, discover that if she wanted to, she could easily find a different day-job (or maybe I should say night-job) and you will no doubt wonder where her next adventure will take her.

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