Title of Book #1: The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant, by artist and author, Jean de Brunhoff, published in France in 1931.
Is there anyone born in the 21st Century who has not heard of the picture book character, BABAR, (pronounced Babb-bar) the Little Elephant? Possibly so. How about anyone in the 20th Century? Most likely no one. And why is that? To answer that question, you need to go back to the early 1900s, in France, to the family of Jean and Cecile de Brunhoff. For, it’s there, that…
Once upon a time… the Babar story began, in the mind of Mrs. Cecile de Brunhoff, as a bedtime tale for her four-year old son, Matthieu, who was sick. The story was retold to father, Jean, by both Matthieu and his brother, Laurent. Jean began to sketch the “bebe” (or baby) elephant and write the story that was called Historie de Babar, le petit elephant, which was published in 1931, one of the first to be categorized as a picture book. Not long afterwards, Babar the Little Elephant, grew in popularity beyond its own home of France to America. It was translated into English and published in 1933 by Random House. Then Jean wrote and illustrated a second book, The Travels of Babar. The little elephant stories, as well as its author-illustrator, grew in popularity, and other stories about Babar followed. Even today, children, parents, teachers, (plus, many more) still read the same stories, assuming and assigning Babar with a fairy tale ending, that he is living “happily ever after”. But, that’s not the entire story here (no pun intended) to the longevity of the elephant’s existence. Babar almost “left for Elephant Heaven” in his sixth year (1937), when his creator, Jean, died at the age of 38–an important fact to know when reviewing any of the legendary Babar children’s books. An Eiffel-Tower-full of croissants has been written about this event. What happened after 1937? How did more Babar books continue to be produced?
Did another Babar, a second one, come into existance? Well, yes, and no. Like his talented father, son Laurent took up the “elephant mantel.” He became Babar’s surrogate creator. He learned how to draw the same strokes that his father had drawn; and, he authenticated the character because of having grown up with this elephant in the family household. But, what about the writing styles between father and son? Are there any notable nuances or similarities between the duo talents? Yes.
If you were to lay some of the books, side by side, of both Jean and Laurent, you would observe that, like the number of Babar stories, the books, too, grew bigger in size. For instance, The Travels of Babar, (by Jean, the father) measures 8″w x 11″h; while, Babar’s Mystery ( by Laurent, a son), measures about 9″w x 13″h, as well as some others. An exception to that latter size is a board book, B is for BABAR, an Alphabet Book (by Laurent) which measures about 7″ x 7″. In addition to the “tall” books, there are the “wide” books: those that open by its width, not its height, which is determined by the book designer for various reasons. So far, little differences can be found between the father-son, and writer-illustrator books, unless you study the lists of titles. Of course, Laurent wrote dozens more stories than his dad, due to his early death. But, the topics of Laurent’s books take Babar into more situations familiar to children, such as a picnic, a circus, a castle, a kitchen, etc. Laurent’s Babar also ventures into education with the learning-a-language series; and, going to a museum, or a school, or to towns and cities, to continents, and even to the moon.
In the latest book, Babar’s Guide to Paris, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers in 2017, Babar advises his youngest daughter, Isabelle, about what to do and see when she goes to Paris. The reader travels in, around, and throughout Paris via Babar’s eyes, accompanied with the pastel drawings expounding each site.
What could be next for this well-known and beloved 88 year-old elephant? Will he invent something awesome? rocket to Mars? go down a zipwire? Perhaps. And, we can be certain that whatever, wherever, or whenever, that the next BABAR book will be a forever book. (PatSays, Children’s book reviewer, Patricia Ann Timbrook)
Rating: 5 Stars, unlimited.