Great French books for kids
With so many children being educated in French and English, parents are now feeling pressure to encourage literacy and reading in both languages.
But for English-speaking parents, trying to find age-appropriate, quality French books can be extremely daunting, especially if their own knowledge of the language is limited. French books tend to be organized differently at bookstores and libraries, often sorted by series and publisher rather than author. Many parents don’t have a clue about what books will please their child.
Louise Pratte, in charge of French books at Babar Children’s Bookstore, suggests selecting works by local authors since the use of language is simpler than those imported from France. Quebec has a thriving children’s book industry so there are plenty of choices.
Kay McIntyre, school librarian at St. Paul’s Elementary School in Duvernay, Laval, encourages parents to search out both fiction and nonfiction books for their children. Encyclopedias, books on topics like space or dinosaurs or even how-to books (recipes, crafts) can all provide an exciting entryway into reading French. And, if your child already has some knowledge of the topic, he or she will be able to follow the text more easily.
Lastly, never hesitate to draw on the resources around you for recommendations, whether it be your child’s teacher, the school librarian or a bookseller. There is a rich world of French-language books out there waiting for your child — and you — to discover.
For children with plenty of imagination, Le chasseur de monstres (Dominique et compagnie, $2.99) by Gilles Tibo will keep hearts thumping in suspense. Readers ages 7 to 9 follow the adventures of Gilou, who defends his home against the monsters he sees lurking in the surrounding woods. The short chapters and comic illustrations provide helpful clues to both the plot and the meaning of certain words, making it a good choice for a child hesitant to read in French.
The Cheval masqué series provides an easy system for parents to identify the progress of their child’s reading level. Divided into three “grades,” (Au pas, Au trot and Au galop), the books target children ages 6 to 8 years. The stories in the collections are short and comical with lively illustrations. Some words are even highlighted in colour, creating a kind of built-in vocabulary lesson. Titles in the series include Po-Paul et le nid-de-poule (Cheval masqué, $8.50) by Carole Jean-Tremblay, and Plus vite, Bruno (Cheval masqué, $7.95) by Robert Soulières.
If your boy already shows signs of being a Romeo, then Mission chocolat pour Simon (Pierre Tisseyre, $8.95) by Andrée-Anne Gratton, will be a fun read. Simon travels to Belgium with his family. There, he encounters more chocolate than he ever imagined possible as well as the beautiful Eleonore, who he must convince to love chocolate so that she will aspire to one day take over her uncle’s chocolate factory. Waiting to see if Simon will succeed in his chocolate mission will have readers ages 7 and up racing to the end of the book.
For children ages 8 and up who are comfortable reading in French, check out Classe de neige (Soulières, $7.95) by Alain M. Bergeron. A young boy, Dominic, has had a ski accident that puts him in the hospital with his leg in a cast. In the story, he recounts how he ended up where he did. For any child who has ever learned how to ski, this story will resonate as it explores the surprises that come from learning a new sport.
La fabuleuse entraîneuse (Québec Amérique, $8.95) by Dominique Demers tells the story of an unlikely soccer coach, whose wacky, unconventional ideas might just lead the Anse-aux-Canards soccer team all the way to victory. Geared towards 7- to 10-year-olds, the book has short chapters and large print, making it a relatively easy and charming read, especially for a child who has been on a soccer team.
The Larousse series Mes petites encyclopédies (Larousse, $9.95), provides excellent non-fiction material for readers ages 6 to 8. Topics covered include firemen, the five senses and a trip to the zoo. Each page is filled with fascinating information and plenty of illustrations. Children ages 9 and up will appreciate the series Savais-tu? (Quintin Michel, $7.95), which has a book for nearly every animal imaginable, each filled with hundreds of facts (photo above).
The Quoi Lire website specifically targets students learning French as a second language. The search engine allows visitors to look for books by author, title, theme (friendship, sports, nature), age of reader, etc. www2.qesnrecit.qc.ca/quoi_lire
This site is run by a non-profit organization that promotes Quebec and French-Canadian literature. It has news about books and literature for young people, as well as a list of the top favourite French books for children based on votes by young readers. www.communication-jeunesse.qc.ca