In 2011 it will be compulsory for all primary schools to offer a foreign language to pupils from the age of seven. French is the language most commonly offered and of course many schools already put energy into making language learning fun and a valuable experience for their pupils. Meanwhile, lots of UK families spend holidays in France and it is not just French speaking parents who are keen to introduce France and the French language to their children from an early age. Rosemary Stones suggests a range of books, both fiction and non-fiction, for young readers to enjoy that will enrich their enjoyment of France and further l’Entente Cordiale.
My First French Book
Ill. Mandy Stanley, Kingfisher, 978 0 7534 1387 6, £5.99 pbk
This lively bilingual introduction to words, numbers, shapes and colours for the very young includes thematic double page spreads (‘The park’/‘Le parc’, ‘The farm’/‘La ferme’, ‘The bathroom’/‘La salle de bains’ etc) on which objects are clearly illustrated with strong black line and bold colours and identified in both languages. The book includes a pronunciation guide at the back to help the adult reader. A friendly picture book that introduces French words as well as English to the very young. Age 1+.
First Picture French
Felicity Brooks and Mairi Mackinnon, ill. Jo Litchfield, Usborne ‘Flap Books’, 978 0 7460 7493 0, £8.99 novelty hbk
Each double page spread in this jolly, large format hardback focuses on a theme (‘A l’école’, ‘Au jardin public’, ‘Au café’ etc) illustrated with doll like models who interact with each other. Speech bubbles and flaps with French words and phrases open to reveal the English word or phrase underneath. An involving and accessible way to introduce children to conversational French. There is no pronunciation guide but readers can visit the Usborne website to hear the words spoken. Age 2-4+.
Lucy Cat at the Farm/Lucie Chat à la Ferme
Catherine Bruzzone, ill. Clare Beaton, b small publishing, 978 1 902915 11 1, £4.99 pbk
This brightly illustrated bilingual story is told in two identical strip cartoons. The text is in captions and speech bubbles and with one language version above the other the young reader can easily refer to the translation. Lucy Cat (‘Bonjour!’/‘Hello!’) visits the farm and meets the animals. When the bull is about to escape, Lucy saves the day by closing the gate in the nick of time (‘Merci, Lucie.’/‘Thank you, Lucy.’) The introduction suggests how to use the book with young readers and a table of key words at the back of the book includes a useful guide to French pronunciation. A friendly, accessible book that even adults who don’t speak French will find easy to share with young readers. Other titles in the series are Lucy Cat at the Party, Lucy Cat at the Beach and Lucy Cat in Town. Age 3+.
Ludwig Bemelmans, Scholastic, 978 1 4071 1053 0, £7.99 pbk
‘In an old house in Paris/ that was covered with vines/ lived twelve little girls in two straight lines… the smallest one was Madeline’ who, dramatically, gets appendicitis and has to be rushed to hospital. She is then envied by the other girls for her scar. One of the many delights of this quirky picture book first published in 1939 (apart from its memorably odd rhyming scheme) are its colour plates with their atmospheric scenes of the capital, a Paris of rainy streets and moonlit buildings executed in a style reminiscent of Dufy. An unmissable taste of Parisian life via a wittily executed tale. Also available in French from Schoenhof Foreign Books. Age 4+.
Eloise in Paris
Kay Thompson, ill. Hilary Knight, Simon & Schuster, 978 1 416 91659 8, £6.99 pbk
First published in 1957, this is the second book about six-year-old enfant terrible Eloise who lives in Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel (as her creator once did) and creates havoc. This time the over-privileged and anarchic Eloise travels to Paris with Nanny where, naturally, Monsieur Dior designs a dress for her (wonderful illustration of him pointing to Eloise’s pot belly with his rule) and dinner at Maxim’s is, of course, charged (‘My mother knows Maxim’). There isn’t much in Paris (not to speak of Versailles) that the hyperactive Eloise doesn’t see and comment on in her breathless stream of consciousness style with all its fiendish charm. Also available in French (title: Eloïse à Paris) from Gallimard Jeunesse. Age 4+.
Hide and Speak French
Catherine Bruzzone and Susan Martineau, ill. Louise Comfort, b small publishing, 978 1 902915 72 2, £5.99 pbk
Organised into themes (‘Dans la salle de classe’/‘In the classroom’, ‘Dans la jungle’/‘In the jungle’, ‘Ma famille’/‘My family’ etc), each double page spread in this cheerfully illustrated book includes a picture column adjacent to the corresponding column of words in French (with a pronunciation guide). Two flaps at the back of the book can cover either the words or the pictures so that the young reader can enjoy playing ‘look, cover and speak’. A simple yet ingenious way to make learning vocabulary fun! Age 5+.
This is Paris
Miroslav Sasek, Universe, 978 0 7893 1063 7, £10.99 hbk
This large format, picture book travel guide to Paris was first published in 1959 and, some minor updating apart, remains the non-pareil introduction to France’s capital city for children. As well as clearly depicting the great monuments and sights (Notre-Dame, the Pont-Neuf, the Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre etc), Sasek shows Parisians doing everyday things – taking home a baguette, stopping for a drink in a bar, a concierge sitting outside her door in the sun, children sailing boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg. The book is illustrated with exuberant gaiety and a wonderful eye for the kind of detail that is quintessentially Parisian – from the different kinds of lamp-posts to the art nouveau entrances to the metro. Superb. Also available in French (title: Paris) from Casterman. Age 5+.
Un Deux Trois: First French Rhymes
Selected by Opal Dunn, ill. Patrice Aggs, Frances Lincoln, 978 1 84507 623 8, £6.99 pbk + CD
25 traditional rhymes and songs in French chosen to help children familiarise themselves with difficult sounds or language are loosely grouped into sections that take the child on a journey from the farm to the market, to the café, to the stream and back home. Children pick up rhymes easily and the accompanying CD encourages them to repeat phrases and sing along with the rhymes. It also lets them know how the words should sound. At the back of the book a guide for adults explains the songs and how to play the games. Age 5+.
Anita Ganeri and Rachel Wright, Franklin Watts ‘Country Topics’, 978 0 7496 7328 4, £5.99 pbk
This well thought out, accessible introduction to France presents basic information about its geography, history and culture and some French words together with activities and games. There are nice touches (eg how to make croque monsieur, how to play pétanque) and the book is well designed with humorous illustrations and photographs. Ideal for family reading as well as for classroom projects. Age 7-11.
Food and Celebrations: France
Sylvia Goulding, Wayland, 978 0 7502 5637 7, £12.99 hbk
Don’t be put off by the rather institutional appearance of this introduction to French cooking. Ten recipes for specialities from the different regions of France (crêpes suzette, onion soup, tarte tatin etc) are clearly explained with step by step instructions that young cooks will find easy to follow. Additional information about France and its food gives a context to the recipes. Age 7-11.
Further useful titles, including bilingual stories for older children, are available from b small publishing (www.bsmall.co.uk). Usborne has a wide range of French language titles including sticker and other activity books (www.usborne.com).
Rosemary Stones is Editor of Books for Keeps.