One of the sad things about leaving a French city to live in an English one, is that I am losing my second language. And believe me, after years of slogging through parsing sentences and gendered nouns, culminating in the triumphant ability to wait tables and read legal texts (but not the ability to make jokes, which is the preserve of the very advanced), it is very sad to find that I now have trouble understanding regularly-paced conversation.
So when we had a kid, it seemed obvious and normal to me, that we would try to speak to him in French. And since we don’t actually speak French to each other, it seemed natural that we would find a whole lot of French books and read to him.
Easier said than done. Here, in our little piece of English Canada, it is not easy to find French books for kids. There were a handful available at our bookstore, but most of them were translations of English texts. Also, they were unimaginative, boring, and the few “dictionaries” we found did not include the genders of words (which is the one thing every kid should learn immediately, so that they never have to think of it again).
Online buying didn’t appeal to us – we wanted to know about the books we were getting. So we started buying books while visiting Montreal. There are many, many, beautifully written and illustrated French children’s books. Unfortunately, there are not so many visits to Montreal – certainly less now than pre-baby.
Luckily, our library has some French books. And I am going to review the books that I have, hopefully to someone’s benefit. Just so you know, many small local bookshops will special-order books if you request it, including French books. I loved bookstores growing up and am sad that they seem to be disappearing. So if you do want to buy one of these, I strongly encourage you to ask your local bookseller! Rah rah for locals!
Rant over, and here is my review of Le livre des bruits.
Immediate first impressions: Not great. I mean, it’s kind of a board book, in the sense that the pages are stiff and don’t bend very easily and certainly would be very difficult for little hands to tear. But the pages are slightly thinner than a regular board book. Also it has a TON of pages (which is probably why the pages are thinner) and kind of weighs a lot. I have my handy tape measure here, and the pages are 14cm x 14 cm (that’s 5.5″ squared), but the book itself is 2.5cm thick (1″)!! Which is pretty thick. So not super portable and not super durable. Baby Tee is very tough on his books (which he loves to read and also to manhandle) and he’s already started bending the pages.
As for the illustrations – I wasn’t thrilled with them. They are very simple – big blocky outlines with dashes of bright colours.
So why did I pick it up? It was on sale, it had a LOT of French animals and items and sounds, and it had all of the articles (le, la) so that we would always remember the gender of the nouns. Practical, no?
But does it pass the acid-test? Why yes, it does: Baby Tee LOVES this book. We got it when he was about 8 months, and at around 10 months he would sit and turn the pages (not very well) and talk out loud. Now, at 13 months, he still loves to flip through it. Since it’s a book of sounds, I think he understands that each page has a sound. So he turns the page, makes a sound, turns another page, makes a (slightly) different sound, and when he gets to the “endpaper” with all of the illustrations shrunk down to fit into a two-page spread, he will sit for about five minutes just making noises and pointing at the pictures, all by himself. He also likes to open the page, point at the picture, and then look at me and wait for me to make the noises.
I was a bit mystified by his love of this book. And when my Parisian friend saw the book and recognized it immediately – the hospital where her daughter was born had given her a copy – I thought: Clearly, there is something in this book that I missed when I first picked it up. Something that cries out to babies and to hospital-based educators who are putting together care packages for new parents.
So, curious, I looked up Soledad Bravi.
A French illustrator with a plethora of children’s books under her belt and a regular contributor to Elle magazine, Ms. Bravi is a veteran. It’s worth looking at her website just to see the playful little video she has of her work desk…and the other kinds of illustrations she has drawn. As an aside, I love her creative space…although, as can be seen from her output, she clearly works very hard at creating and therefore needs to have a good workspace. I am particularly jealous of anyone with wall-to-wall bookshelves.
Her illustrative style is simple but evocative and reminds me a little of Le petit Nicolas, only more modern and colourful (as a child, I always found Le petit Nicolas a bit too dully illustrated). I am now very interested to see her other books, and will be looking out for them on our next trip to a French bookstore.
Favourite Illustration: It’s tough to say. I like the monkey (“Le singe il fait ou ou ou”) because he seems to be flying across the page with wild monkey abandon. But I also like the drink (“La boisson ell e fait glou glou”) because of the quiet face of a child drinking with their eyes closed.
Funniest Noise: Yes, a cow says meuh and a rooster says cocorico, But did you know that a train says “tacata tacata”? It really does!
Page That Makes Me Uncomfortable: Yep, there is one. Page 3: the gun (“Le pistolet il fait pan”). Maybe I’m being oversensitive, but I don’t like the idea of Baby Tee learning what a gun is from one of his kids books. Luckily, his dexterity is not that good and he typically opens the book to page 10.
Rating: A-. Any book that occupies a baby for more than a few seconds, without parental intervention or destruction of parental belongings, is a solid baby book. Plus, it includes a whole lot of different kinds of noises and nouns for Anglophone parents who want their kids to read in French. I wish it didn’t have the gun, though.