Category Archives: Book review

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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Swimming in a gigantic bowl of creamy milk, what a dream!

I wish I’d had this dream, but this is Colin’s, the cute and fun cat in Leigh Hodgkinson‘s book Colin and the wrong Shadow. My son picked it  up at the library and decided that reading it twice was not enough (which I guess is always a good sign). Since then (a mere 10 hours ago) we’ve probably read it another six or seven times, and I would not be surprised to hear that his father has also been solicited! I am not sure what my son prefers in this book but here is a list of the things he has appreciated and underlined as we read together:

1-the cereal shaped ‘o’ going from Colin’s head to the giant bowl full of milk he is dreaming about      

2.the giant elephant shadow and the little pink mouse Vernon

3-the bouncy flowers that make Vernon jump like a super-dooper star and his tuba&mask at the end of the story

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From this list you would not know that this book is all about Colin’s search for his lost shadow, but it is. After realising that the funny feeling he has when waking up is due to his new mouse-shaped shadow, Colin tries to ignore the sniggering of other cats. But this is really hard. Finally sad and frustrated, he manages to spot his original shadow and chases it down. It turns out that Vernon, a little pink mouse, has ‘borrowed’ his shadow while he was sleeping. But Colin is not happy with this switch-swap and wants his shadow back. After a heart to heart conversation, Vernon and Colin finally come to an agreement and swap shadows again before having a lot of fun together.

While my son was curious about the interchangeable shadows and the details of the collages making up part of the illustrations, I could not refrain from admiring the various levels this story could be read at . You can look at it as a simple lost&find type of adventure, but the story is also about appearances and the way individuals perceive each other and act accordingly. The fun these two improbable companions eventually have proves everyone wrong in the end, which is a relief.  The ‘all is well that ends well’ cuppa that Colin and Vernon share was a highlight for both my children, who seem to understand instinctively that this special tea&cheese break stands for both resolution and comfort .

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As for me, I loved the attention to texture, layers and details of Hodkinson’s illustrations. Colin’s soft looking fur, Vernon cracker-sofa, and the fun camembert on the back cover all added to my enjoyment. There are several other books by this author including one starring Colin again, so I suspect we will be reading more of these this summer…and you may read more about them in another post.

(To be continued)

 

Claude our favorite French dog, but is he really?

We read our first Claude: Claude and the City about three years ago as an inspired librarians had displayed it with a bunch of other books recommended for early readers. I suspect my daughter, who was then 5, picked it up partly because it was long enough to look like a paperback, which to her was what grown ups read, so something she should aspire to. But this random pick turned out to be a great discovery for the two of us! After all what’s not to like about a smart and cheeky dog, who loves cakes and wears a stylish red beret?!

So when my son picked up Claude at the Circus on a recent visit to our local independent bookseller, it was like being re-united with an old friend.C. particularly loves Claude’s sidekick, Mr Bobblysock, who may smell a bit like cheese but who can always be relied on in an emergency.

I love the retro feel of Alex T. Smith’s illustrations and the humour of his books. For some reason (maybe the colour palette) they remind me of Ian Falconer’s Olivia, another quirky and cheeky character. To me, all the Claude books are a delight to read aloud, and it is fun to see how little people instantly recognize his knowing grin when he thinks about lovely buns or pretends to be asleep after he’s come back home just on time to fool his owners, Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes.

As to his French flair, what can I say?! I am biased! He wears his red beret with elegance and uses it as a fantastic stash for things he needs. He can tap dance but does not like to stretch much. And he loves a good cup of tea and a nap in the park, two of my favourite things… So if you need to polish your French before your next holiday or if you’d like a good laugh, go to your library or buy one of Alex T. Smith’s Claude books, I promise you, you will not regret it.

Additional ressources:

  • Want to know how to draw Claude? Follow this easy tutorial!
  • Want to polish your French? Why go for Berlitz or Lonely Planet when you have Claude’s essential phrasebook?

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  • Finally British Readers, next time you’re stuck for ideas when your child asks you for a costume the day before World Book day: think Claude! Red beret (which can be knitted in an evening, I swear) red sweater and you’re good to go!

 

Les sanglots longs du violon de Carotte, or how a carrot learns that the violin is really not for her

Si on en croit le dicton français ‘la musique adoucit les moeurs’ mais la pauvre carotte, héroine de cette collaboration entre Isabelle Jacqué et Jacques Leroy, a bien du mal à voir les fruits de son labeur refléter cet adage.

Tous les mercredis, elle prend des leçons et une fois rentrée chez elle, elle pratique religieusement mais rien n’y fait, quoi qu’elle fasse, son violon ne produit que le même grincement affreux. Triste et à bout d’idées, Carotte tombe un jour sur Petit Pois qui lui aussi ne tire que des sons affreux de sa clarinette. C’est alors que Petit pois curieux suggère un échange et qu’un miracle survient. Je ne vous en dit pas plus, si ce n’est que cet album se termine en fanfare et sur une fin heureuse.

Ce livre de petit format est parfait pour les petites mains dés 2 ans. Il est très résistant, et l’histoire n’est ni trop longue, ni trop courte avec juste une à deux phrases par page. Le jeune lecteur a amplement le temps de profiter des jolies illustrations colorées et de rire des mésaventures de ces deux musiciens en herbe.

Si votre petit bout aime bien cette histoire de couacs et les personnages de Carotte et Petit Pois, il peut les retrouver dans d’autres titres de la série intitulée Tomate, Cerise et Companie qui se passe au pays de Fruigume. La maman de Julie et Laura propose sur son blog un résumé enthousiaste de Framboise fait sa princesse. Nous ne l’avons pas lu mais aimons bien les soeurs jumelles Cerisette et Cerisa qui apprennent dans Les cerises veulent tout faire ensemble à profiter de leurs expérience en solo.

Envie de prolonger le plaisir? Une superbe idée de peinture sur cailloux, adaptable à tous les ages, vous attend par ici!

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Today, my objective is not to discuss the reasons why French children supposedly don’t throw food, this polemic is old news and anyway not that interesting. What I’d like to do however is to show you how vegetables can be really cute characters in children’s  books.

In this short and sweet little book, Carotte  attends music lessons every single week. She also practices the violin regularly in a desperate attempt to make music. But her determination is useless, and it is only after meeting Petit Pois that she realises that maybe she’s just chosen the wrong instrument. Thanks to his simple suggestion to switch instruments, Carotte discovers that she is a talented oboe player! What a surprise! The end is, as you would expect, a joyful symphony and the cacophony preceding this happy ending is guarantee to make your kids laugh.

We’ve only read three books out of this short series but they’re all very colourful and full of funny rhymes or lines. This is a nice alternative if you are looking for books in which animals are not protagonists. And who knows, they might subtly turn your picky eater into a little foodie? One can always dream, right?!

Finally, if you’re looking for a crafty activity that can easily be adapted to all ages, I cannot recommend enough Liska’s idea in this post and her excellent blog. Go and have a look!

Boubou et la forêt cracra, Boubou&crap literature in French

I started this blog thinking it would be a handy space first to make a somewhat durable note of the places we’ve been to and enjoyed. I also hoped that it could act as a sort of repository that could be searched by key term. At the moment, we live in London and our children kids are educated in English in a nearby school so, naturally, we read a lot of English books. It was therefore logical for me to write this blog in English. But we are also a bilingual family. So I’ve had a long thought and changed my mind on the monolingual nature of this blog.

Why should I deny francophone or francophile readers the pleasure of hearing about books in French? After all, I love reading reviews of books on French blogs like Les Lectures de Kit , Tu l’as lu(strucru)? and Chez Gaelle la libraireAnd what about teachers of French as a foreign language? Couldn’t they benefit from reviews of French books? There must be people out there like myself who are interested in hearing about good books in French for young readers.

To make sure keen English readers are not being deprived, I will add a short note in English when doing reviews of French books, not a translation really, but just a kind of short taster.

Bon voilà, ce vendredi je me décide finalement à rédiger mon premier billet en français que j’espère hebdomadaire et que j’ai décidé d’appeler, inspirée par Library Mice et ses French Fridays. Après avoir évoqué brièvement la période parfois éreintante de l’apprentissage de la propreté, je me suis dis qu’il serait agréable de revenir sur une des lectures qui nous fait toujours sourire et même rire: Boubou et la forêt cracra.

Dans ce livre (qui appartient à une longue série d’aventures) Boubou, un petit Pygmée au départ d’excellente humeur, met le pied dans un gros caca fumant et se met en colère contre les animaux qui  souillent la forêt. Après les avoir fait nettoyer, il les écoute expliquer quelles tactiques ils ont adoptées pour dissimuler ou gérer leur déjections. Leurs méthodes ont beau être différentes, elles sont toutes imparfaites, ce qui fait enrager Boubou de plus belle! Finalement Bembé l’éléphant est celui qui fournit à cet album coloré son apogée comique, Je ne vous en dirai pas plus, histoire de vous laisser la surprise, mais disons que cette histoire en boucle est franchement désopilante.

Pour ceux insensibles à l’humour scatologique mais intéressés par l’équilibre entre la faune, la flore et les populations locales ou la culture pygmée, Cyril Hahn propose des fiches pédagogiques bien fichues sur le site de Casterman. Quant à moi, je suis toujours surprise des comparaisons impromptues que nos lectures génèrent. Rien que ce soir mon plus jeune me déclarait au sortir du bain: “Bembé, il est beaucoup plus gros que les soeurs taupes mais lui aussi il fait des gros trous partout qui mettent les gens en colère”. Son rapprochement est indéniable même si sa logique est pour le moins inattendue. Serait-ce un signe que nous avons dans la famille un futur éthologue? Ou devrais-je interpréter cette remarque autrement et chercher à varier nos plaisirs de lecture en choisissant pour un temps des lectures moins anthropomorphiques? Et moi qui voulait vous parler vendredi prochain de Charles un sublime petit dragon maladroit…il va maintenant falloir que j’y réfléchisse.

Des préférences ou des avis tranchés sur la question? N’hésitez pas et manifestez-vous dans les commentaires!

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Boubou et la forêt cracra tells the story of a young Pygmy warrior who slips not a on a banana skin but on poo. Like the little mole who goes from animal to animal after getting quite cross, Boubou listens to animals like the crocodile and the parrot who explain to him how they intend to make amends and deal with the mess they make in the forest. Most of their strategies are ineffective yet highly comical and the details of each generate in our household roars of laughter. Believe me when I say that this is not a didactic classic but a light and fun evocation of life in a jungle not so different from that of our cities!


 

Hey you, did you poo on my head?

I bought Werner Holzwarth and Wolf’s Erlbruch’s book The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it was None of his Business well before any of my children could read. If I remember well I bought it when pregnant with my first child based on the recommendation of my Norwegian friend, who said it was one of her daughter’s favourites.

The version I have is in French, but it’s been translated from German into many languages as it is considered one of the classics of ‘crap literature’. One day as the little mole pops her head out, she gets pooped on by an unidentified animal. Indignant, she goes on a quest to find the culprit and get revenge. Her quest leads her to question a pigeon, a horse, a rabbit, a goat, a cow, a pig, and finally two expert flies who confirm that she needs to look for a dog.

Now this story is fun and engaging, not only because all kids from the age of say approximately two to six love talking about poo, but also because it is a great way to discuss strong emotions like frustration, anger, and relief. I am sure this book played a role in having my kids going on poo hunts when walking in the nearby woods, they would look and try to identify which animal had done their business by the trees or on the leaves.

We have several nature guides that honestly we only use from time to time, but it never occurred to me to search for a proper poo chart, and what a mistake! Woodland trust has wonderful resources if you’re hoping to enjoy the outdoors this summer, whether you’re planning a picnic or building an obstacle course!

So if you’re looking for a funny book, a story where the little one outdoes the big, or if you want a break from the didactic books you usually get around your child’s potty training years whose message is: ‘be a good boy/girl and do a poo-poo where your parents tell you to’, then read this one!

Being unproductive and loving it

As parents or carers, we are often told that one of our roles is  to stimulate our children by for instance filling up their days with activities from music classes to swimming lessons. Even medical professionals advise parents to read to their babies now!

I don’t intend this blog to become a parenting forum where one could debate and criticise the attitudes of so called tiger mums or idle parents. Caricatures may be fun to read about, but I don’t think they help to find your own way of parenting your kids.

I believe however that we could all gain from being reminded sometimes that it is not only pleasant but also formative to slow down and to do absolutely nothing.

The adventures of the mole sisters, a series of books by the author and illustrator Roslyn Schwartz, are just perfect to remind you that sometimes we should all take it easy and enjoy the little moments we spend together. L., my oldest was a big fan of the simple stories and gorgeous illustrations, and she would often marvel at the details and colours of the wavy wheat or the dandelions. Now her brother (who’s just turned four) has recently taken to the mole sisters too, but he seems to be more interested in acting up the stories and repeating the sisters’ advice or dialogue such as: ‘Sometimes it’s important to do nothing!’

Each of their stories can be read separately, some are rather comical, other almost philosophical. At home we have The mole sisters and the wavy wheat and another volume gathering all of their adventures with ten different stories, a must for serial readers! For early readers and preschoolers, these are perfect, short and sweet, funny and light.

They have been translated and animated (although I cannot tell you first hand whether the cartoon version is any good) and like many classics, they have made their mark on children. If you don’t believe me, go and see the photos of this incredible cake with the mole sisters and the wavy wheat made by a fifteen year old for her sister’s birthday!

Because we love moles, bees and bugs at least in our books, expect a few other posts on these creatures soon…and feel free to comment and add your own reading suggestions as we are about to embark on our yearly summer reading challenge at the local library.