It’s a special treat to have Elizabeth Bard contribute her family’s top five favorites to The Children’s Book Review. An American journalist and author based in France, her first book, Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes has been a New York Times and international bestseller, a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” pick, and the recipient of the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best First Cookbook (USA). Bard’s writing on food, art, travel and digital culture has appeared in The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, Wired, Harper’s Bazaar and The Huffington Post. Thanks to Elizabeth for sharing her thoughtful personal reflections on raising her son abroad with us.
Story time at our house is fun time, bed time, but it is also the site of a good-natured – but genuine – culture war. From the moment I moved to Paris to be with my French husband, I knew our children would be bilingual. As our lives have unfolded here, it’s become clear that most of my son’s childhood will be spent in France, worlds away from Sesame Street, Twinkies and other staples of my American childhood.
Augustin is almost three now. In addition to speaking English with me, and on vacations with his grandparents, books are the most effective tool I have to make sure he becomes – and stays – fluent in English, and is introduced to the different world view that creeps into the stories we choose to tell. There’s a part of all this that is inherently selfish: I want him to love these books because I love them. If he couldn’t – or didn’t want to – read in English, it would be like sewing up half my soul. A piece of his mother, and one of his cultures, would become unknowable to him.
Here are a few of our early and current favorites:
By Amy Krouse Rosenthal
One of Augustin’s very first words was “Poon” – shorthand for his favorite book. Spoon is a wonderful “the grass is always greener” story of a little spoon who thinks his friends, knife, fork and chopsticks have it so much better than him. He never gets to twirl spaghetti. He never gets to cut bread. His mother thoughtfully reminds him that knife can’t swim around in a bowl with the Cheerios, and chopsticks never get to dive into bowl of vanilla ice-cream.
Ages 3-7 | Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children | April 7, 2009
By Benoît Charlat
Our hero, a boldly sketched penguin, shows us flowers in all their incarnations. I love Charlat’s offbeat sense of humor. There’s a carnivorous flower, eating a ham hock, a pair flowered boxer shorts and…an artichoke. It’s especially telling to see which pages make Augustin laugh. He thinks it’s hysterical when the ball rolls into grandma’s flowerbed! For the moment, only one of Charlat’s books, “A Little Flush” has been translated into English. I haven’t read it, but I would love to see his quirky take on toilet training.
Ages 3-6 | Publisher: L’Ecole des Loisirs | March 11, 2010
By Benoît Charlat
Ages 3-6 | Publisher: Barron’s Educational Series, Incorporated | August 1, 2010
By Jackie French
We did a lot traveling when Augustin was a baby. On my first trip to Australia for a literary festival my editor insisted I take home a copy of this local children’s classic. I’m not sure all wombats are as good natured in their mischief, but this one looks a lot like a teddy bear who digs holes. A good day in his diary: “Slept. Slept. Dug a hole. Slept.” The moral (such as it is) is that carrots are very tasty and humans make wonderful pets.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | March 23, 2009 (Reprint)
By Tomi Ungerer
Les Trois Brigands (The Three Robbers) is a French classic which is also available in English. The saturated colors of the illustrations are so satisfying – and the eyes of the robbers beneath their tall black hats and voluminous black cloaks are somehow sympathetic rather than terrifying. The structure is classic: three robbers menace the local roads with their strange weapons, a pistol with a barrel like a trombone, a box of pepper spray shaped like an gramophone, and a large red axe. One dark night they attack a carriage. Inside is an orphan named Tiffany, who is being sent to live with a grumpy Aunt. Since there is nothing else to plunder, the robbers decide to steal her. Back at their robbers’ cave, Tiffany plays in their chests of gold, wondering what they do with it all. They quite like having her around, and decide to use their riches to buy a chateau which they fill with other abandoned and neglected children – each of whom gets a cloak and hat like the robbers, but in cherry red.
Ages 1-8 | Publisher: Phaidon Press, Incorporated | April 10, 2009
By Dr. Seuss
This is a childhood favorite of mine; I dragged over my worn 1970’s box set of Dr. Seuss almost as soon as Augustin was born. My father read these stories to me, I remember him racing through the page about Goose Juice and Moose Juice until the words tripped all over themselves and we both collapsed in a heap of laughter on the bed. I can’t imagine a better way to introduce my son to the fun, the acrobatics and the elasticity of the English language. That said, my French husband reads a mean Dr. Seuss. I think it should count for something if he ever applies for an American passport. Visit our Dr. Seuss Books for Kids page for more timeless classics from Dr. Seuss!
Ages 6-9 | Publisher: Random House Children’s Books | August 28, 1968
PS – If I may, there are two quick questions I’d like to ask you, dear readers.
# 1: I’m still mourning the demise of a company called The Mind’s Eye, which did classics (Dickens, Austen etc.) on tape (yes, cassette tape) for kids. Does anyone know of a great audio book company for children?
#2: I live in rural Provence these days, so keeping track of new age appropriate books, or even remembering the classics, is sometimes difficult. I’d love to hear some of your favorite blogs, lists, clubs – anything that will help me build a great English language library for Augustin from far away. Merci!
Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies The May Queen, Because I Love Her, What I Would Tell Her, and Crush. She is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Daily Candy, 7×7, Red Tricycle, and San Francisco Book Review. Nicki has been reading to her daughter every day since she was born. For more information, visit: https://nickirichesin.com/.