Looking for a great way to introduce your child to French culture? Planning a family vacation to France? These books are a great way to familiarize children with the country’s rich history and introduce important landmarks.
Children’s Books Set in Paris
Madeline by Ludwig Belmans
Of course, no list of French children’s books would be complete without this classic by Ludwig Bemelmans. A Caldecott Honor Book, Madeline has captivated children and adults since its first publication in 1939 with its melodic rhymes and unconventional illustrations. The story centers around Madeline, a plucky heroine who pooh-poohs the tiger at the zoo and isn’t afraid of mice or frightening Miss Clavel, the head of her boarding school. When poor Madeline becomes sick with appendicitis, she is rushed to the hospital to have the offending organ removed. After she awakens, she receives visits from her friends, who quickly decide, upon seeing the toys, candy, and a dollhouse in Madeline’s hospital room, that they want their appendixes out, too. The quirky story also provides children with a glimpse of some of Paris’s most famous sights—including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Opera House, Pont Neuf, the Tuileries Gardens and the Luxembourg Gardens—making it a great way to introduce children to the City of Light. Fans of Madeline will also appreciate the other books in the series, especially Madeline’s Rescue (another award-winner).
Henri’s Walk to Paris by Leonore Klein
Henri’s Walk to Paris is the story of a young boy who lives in Reboul, France, who dreams of going to Paris. One day, after reading a book about Paris, he decides to pack a lunch and head for the city.
“Like many of us Henri wants to see Paris.
In Paris, there are thousands of buses. In Reboul, where Henri lives, there is only one bus.
In Paris there are many parks and rows and rows of trees. The park in Reboul has only five trees. In Paris there are many zoos full of animals for the people to see.
So one fine day Henri packs up some lunch and starts off to see all the things he had read about.”
Along the way, Henri gets tired and falls asleep under a tree. And this is when the story gets really charming. What Henri sees, we see, in a flowing panorama of pictures conceived by the eminent graphic designer Saul Bass.
Anatole (Anatole, #1) by Eve Titus
Anatole is a most honorable mouse. When he realizes that humans are upset by mice sampling their leftovers, he is shocked! He must provide for his beloved family–but he is determined to find a way to earn his supper. And so he heads for the tasting room at the Duvall Cheese Factory. On each cheese, he leaves a small note–“good,” “not so good,” “needs orange peel”–and signs his name. When workers at the Duvall factory find his notes in the morning, they are perplexed–but they realize that this mysterious Anatole has an exceptional palate and take his advice. Soon Duvall is making the best cheese in all of Paris! They would like to give Anatole a reward–if only they could find him…
This is Paris, by Miroslav Sasek
Another great introduction to Paris for younger children, Miroslav Sasek’s classic work features vivid illustrations and a delightful narrative that brings the city to life. From the banks of the Seine, to the Louvre’s illustrious galleries, to the top of the Eiffel Tower, this book covers the city’s major sights in exceptionally detailed drawings that capture the rhythm of everyday life in these extraordinary settings. Not only will this book capture your child’s imagination, it will capture your heart as well.
Adèle & Simon, by Barbara McClintock
This adorable story is one of my favorite picture books to read aloud to my children. Set in early 20th century Paris, it follows Adèle and her brother Simon on their roundabout way home from school (remember when young children walked home alone from school?). Along the way, Simon manages to lose most of his belongings, despite his sister’s admonitions that he keep track of his things. What makes the story so engaging is finding the lost items among the elegant pen-and-ink illustrations that beautifully depict some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including Notre Dame, the Jardin du Luxembourg, and the Louvre. There’s even a map showing the children’s route across the city, and an appearance by the legendary Edgar Degas and other artists.
Eloise in Paris by Kay Thompson
If you come to Paris with Eloise you will always be glad you did.
Eloise in Paris was first published in 1957, the second of the Eloise quartet, and an immediate bestseller. Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight traveled to Paris to research the book, and the illustrations are dotted with the celebrities they knew there: Richard Avedon takes Eloise’s passport photograph; Christian Dior prods her tummy, while his young assistant, Yves Saint Laurent, looks on; Lena Horne sits at an outdoor café.
Everybody Bonjours! by Leslie Kimmelman
Shop a fancy France-y store. Eat a pretty petit four. Discover! Sightsee! Explore! On this fun and friendly tour, everybody says “Bonjour!” Whether at a soccer stadium (“players scoring”), a crêpe stand (“batter pouring”), or strolling the Champs d’ Elysee (where folks “Bonjour” in every store), a little girl and her family are welcomed everywhere with the signature French greeting. Jump into these pages and enjoy the trip! Through lilting words and lively images, Everybody Bonjours welcomes young reader-travelers to a Paris that isn’t just for artists, grown-ups, and dreamers– it’s for kids!
Madeline and the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans
One day Pepito, son of the Spanish ambassador who lives next door to Madeline, invites her and her cohorts to a Gypsy carnival. They venture forth excitedly, but suddenly a storm hits the fairgrounds, so everyone hops in a taxi and heads back home. Except for Madeline and Pepito, that is–forgotten and stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel in a downpour. Pepito climbs down to get help, and the Gypsy Mama takes the children under her wing … and on the road. Gypsy life affords many previously forbidden wonders to the two kids–they get to float in a pool while everyone else is in school, and they don’t have to brush their teeth, or even sleep. In between learning how to walk the tightrope and juggling, they send Miss Clavel a postcard. “‘Thank heaven,’ she said, ‘The children are well! / But dear, oh dear, they’ve forgotten how to spell.'” As she and Madeline’s 11 classmates race to find them (based on the postmark location), the Gypsy Mama sees the approaching Parisian posse in her crystal ball. Despite the Gypsy Mama’s worst intentions, and the fact that she sewed the children into an old lion’s costume to hide them, Madeline and Pepito are reunited with Miss Clavel and the others. The Chicago Tribune writes, “How inevitable that the irrepressible Madeline should one day meet up with gypsies…. As absurd and amusing as ever.”
Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland
Follow Julia Child—chef, author, and television personality—from her childhood in Pasadena, California, to her life as a spy in WWII, to the cooking classes she took in Paris, to the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to the funny moments of being a chef on TV. This is a comprehensive and enchanting picture book biography, told in many panels and jam-packed with lively, humorous, and child-friendly details. Young chefs and Julia Child fans will exclaim, “ooooh la la,” about this book, which is as energetic and eccentric as the chef herself
Charlotte in Paris by Annie Bryant
It’s 1892. Charlotte and her family have lived abroad in the famous artist colony in Giverny, France, for a year, when an exciting invitation arrives. The celebrated impressionist Mary Cassatt is having an exhibition in Paris. While in Paris, Charlotte dines at a cafe on the Champs-Elysees, watches a marionette show in the Tuileries gardens and celebrates her birthday at the Eiffel Tower. Illustrated with stunning museum reproductions of works by artists such as Monet, Degas, Cassatt, Renoir and Rodin as well as lovely watercolor collages, this sequel to Charlotte in Giverny also includes biographical sketches of the featured painters. Charlotte’s charming scrapbook will leave fans of the first book, art lovers, Francophiles and readers of all ages shouting, “Vive Charlotte!”
Madame Martine by Sarah S. Brannen
Madame Martine lives in Paris and follows the same routine every day. She takes for granted the beautiful things that exist all around her. She refuses to go to the Eiffel Tower because it’s “just for tourists.” One day Madame Martine finds a stray dog and decides to take him home. When she tries keeping her dog on the same schedule, he breaks free, leading Madame Martine on a wild chase up the Eiffel Tower! Upon reaching the top, she discovers how much beauty she has been missing all these years. From then on, the two friends try something different every week
Paris-Chien: adventures of an ex-pat dog by Jackie Clark Mancuso
With gouache illustrations of dogs, people, parks, markets, and cafes that bring Paris to life, the story of Hudson, an adventurous Norwich Terrier who moves to Paris, is as much for dog lovers and Francophiles as it is for kids. Hudson loves the new sights and smells, but when he tries to make friends, an obstacle arises—the dogs only speak French. When his mom suggests going to French class, Hudson discovers other ex-pat dogs are in the same boat. Determined to make friends, he hits the books and things begin to look up; Hudson becomes a Parisian, or rather, a Paris-chien (chien means “dog” in French). Demonstrating a message to children about how to cope with change in their lives, little Hudson’s desire to make friends and thrive in his new environment is so strong that he learns a new language. French words that appear in the illustrations are defined in a glossary, so the book also serves as an introduction to learning French. Hudson’s successful experience will be a consolation to any child set down in a new school, city, or country.
What are your favorite children’s books set in Paris? Feel free to add your list in the comment section.
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