Monday, July 26th, 2004
I have been reading some children's stories. A few nights ago Sylvia was interested in hearing Babar the King for a bedtime story, which she had never heard before. So I tried it out and was surprised that it held her attention all the way through; it is wordier than most of of her books, and has more unfamiliar words. The next day, she was still talking about the characters in the story. Great, I thought -- let's go to the bookstore and get more Babar books! We went to the Montclair Book Center and picked up Babar's Little Girl, and ever since, whenever I read her a story during the day or at bedtime, she requests one or both of the Babar books.
Some notes about them, in no real order:
- I did not know this when I went to the bookstore but it turns out you should check the author before you buy a Babar book: The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant, Babar's Travels, Babar the King, and Babar and Father Christmas, and maybe some others are by Jean de Brunhoff. But many more are by Laurent de Brunhoff, whom I take to be Jean's son, and not his equal as a writer. That said, Sylvia does like Laurent's Babar's Little Girl a whole lot.
- In Babar the King, the tense switches around in confusing ways. In one paragraph "Babar proclaims", in the next, "the elephants cheered." I can't figure out why this is, it must be some vagary of translation.* This is not the case in Babar's Little Girl, which I am thinking might have been written in English, as it does not have any translation credit.
- Sylvia knows how to read the words, "Babar the king".
- I love the names of the minor characters! I get a kick out of saying "Hatchibombatar." (He is the street cleaner in Celestville.)
On the same bookstore trip, I picked up Finn Family Moomintroll and Tales from Moominvalley, by Tove Jansson (another series with excellent character names). I have fond memories of these books from childhood and am looking forward to introducing Sylvia to them, not quite yet but soon. Today on the train to and from work, I read Finn Family Moomintroll.
*Update: Or maybe it is something more meaningful. Here is the abstract of "Time, Narrative Intimacy and the Child : Implications of the Transition from the Present to the Past Tense in the Translation into English of Children's Texts", by Gillian Lathey:
The British version of Jean de Brunhoff's Histoire de Babar is a striking example of the transition from the present to the past tense in the translation of children's texts into English. With reference to theories of narrative time, this paper invites speculation on the impact of such a tense shift on the present-tense qualities of the original, on the performance of a shared reading by child and adult and, finally, on the relevance of the young child's developing understanding of the role of tense in narrative.The article is from Documents in Information Science, vol. 48, 2003, and is available at érudit.org.
Thursday, August 12th, 2004
We got another Babar book this weekend, one of the originals by Jean de Brunhoff: Babar and Zephir. (Also got some more Moomin books, about which more later.) Sylvia loves it (Arthur and Zephir are her two favorite characters in Babar) and said last night that she wants to have it for her bedtime story every night.
Saturday, December 20th, 2008
"Let's work hard and cheerfully and we'll continue to be happy," the Old Lady tells the elephants, and, though we know that the hunter is still in the woods, it is hard to know what more to add. Adam Gopnik has a good article in the current New Yorker about de Brunhoff's Babar books -- "Freeing the Elephants" addresses complaints about the colonialist worldview in Babar by calling the books "a self-conscious comedy about the French colonial imagination and its close relation to the French domestic imagination." I'm not totally convinced that this describes the spirit in which the books were written -- Gopnik doesn't really make an argument, just an assertion -- but it does seem like an excellent spirit in which to read the books.
Next week we're going to see the exhibit at the Morgan Library. The library's website features a digital reproduction of de Brunhoff's first, hand-printed copy of Histoire de Babar.
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