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Reading in French: A Student's Guide to Francophone Literature & Language Learning

Rare & Contemporary French Children's Books

Does The Little Prince sound familiar? How about Little Nicholas? Chances are that you recognize one of these classic works. French children's books have been profound sources of influence not only for English literature but for literature from all around the world. Works from literary heavyweights like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Alexandre Dumas are accessible to almost everyone. In fact, Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince has been translated into over two-hundred-fifty languages, one of the most translated books in history. Sometimes children's books are dismissed due to their "simplistic nature", but children's literature often explores abstract and metaphysical topics beneath the simple language and illustrations. Plus, for students of French, its reader-friendly language serves as a wonderful way to boost your French proficiency without getting discouraged. Some children's stories date back to pre-17th century folklore. Classic French fairytales External such as Charles Perrault's Le petit chaperon rouge External (Little Red Riding Hood) are known far and wide and often touch on human fears and curiosities. It wasn't until the 19th century that renowned publisher Pierre-Jules (P-J) Hetzel created the first publications to take children's literature and education seriously. He used high-quality paper and paid for illustrations, but most importantly, he recruited the finest authors of the era to write for his publications, Nouveau Magasin des Enfants and Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation. Jules Verne, George Sand, Balzac and Alfred de Musset are some of Hetzel's talented contributors.

The study of children's literature can be a deeply personal and nostalgic experience. Being read to by a caring adult is often a child's first exposure to the broader world around them and for this reason alone, children's literature holds a place of profound importance in society. It's also important to not underestimate the inherent diversity and gravity of children's literature. Author of both Children's and YA Books, Laura Nsafou is leading the way in this regard. One is never too old to read children's literature. Find images and classic texts of littérature pour la jeunesse on Gallica External. Another way to find quality children's literature is to go directly to French publishing houses that specialize in this material such as Gautier-Languereau External, which was founded in 1885. The Library is continuing to grow its collection of French children's literature. Below are recommendations for both rare and contemporary French language children's books as well as images of a rare collection of miniature French-language books from the 19th century intended for British children learning French.


Select French Children's Books

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Rare French Children's Books

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

The Library's Rare Book & Special Collections Division has a vast collection of rare French books, including those for children. Often these books are encased in special protective containers designed for the individual book itself. The images below show a collection called Bibliothèque des Enfants. Published in London, it consists of 16 miniature (56 mm) illustrated books designed for English-speaking children who are learning French. The books tell simple stories in French and have definitions in English for some words. They are meant to be portable and to fit into small hands. The collection is housed in a wooden case with tiny shelves that hold the books securely in the box. In the texts themselves, note the "long s" which resembles a modern English "f" in some of the words. Also note the accent aigu in Bibliothéque on the title page of volume 4.

John Marshall, publisher. Bibliothèque des Enfants. [between 1800 and 1806]. Photo by Erika Hope Spencer. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.
John Marshall, publisher. Bibliothèque des Enfants. [between 1800 and 1806]. Photo by Erika Hope Spencer. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.
John Marshall, publisher. Bibliothèque des Enfants. [between 1800 and 1806]. Photo by Erika Hope Spencer. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.
John Marshall, publisher. Bibliothèque des Enfants. [between 1800 and 1806]. Photo by Erika Hope Spencer. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.
John Marshall, publisher. Bibliothèque des Enfants. [between 1800 and 1806]. Photo by Erika Hope Spencer. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.
John Marshall, publisher. Bibliothèque des Enfants. [between 1800 and 1806]. Photo by Erika Hope Spencer. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.
John Marshall, publisher. Bibliothèque des Enfants. [between 1800 and 1806]. Photo by Erika Hope Spencer. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.
John Marshall, publisher. Bibliothèque des Enfants. [between 1800 and 1806]. Photo by Erika Hope Spencer. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.
John Marshall, publisher. Bibliothèque des Enfants. [between 1800 and 1806]. Photo by Erika Hope Spencer. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.