Picture Books from the Past

The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

The Story of Babar was first published in 1931 by French author Jean de Brunhoff. It was the first of six written before his death in 1937. The stories of Babar the elephant were based of bedtime stories his wife would tell their children.
The French book cover
The first book told the story of Babar, a little elephant who ran away to the city after hunters shot his mother. There he meets a kind, old lady, who takes Babar in, looks after him, buys him clothes, and sends him to school. One day, when Babar was nearly grown, his cousins, Celeste and Arthur, came to look for him in the city. Babar was very pleased to see his family again. When Celeste and Arthur’s mothers came looking for them’ although he was sad to leave the kind old lady, he gladly went home to the forest with his elephant family. Meanwhile, the king of the elephants had eaten a funny mushroom and died. Upon Babar’s arrival home to the forest, all the elephants decided that Babar should be the new king because of how sophisticated he was. Babar also announced that he was going to marry Celeste, and there was a big party to celebrate their wedding and coronation.

In 1946 Jean de Brunhoff’s son Laurent continued writing the Babar stories: 

“After World War II, I decided to carry on Babar’s adventures. Babar was like a brother to me, and I wanted him to live again. …. Now I have created many more Babar stories than my father and am older than he ever was, and that is sometimes and eerie feeling.” Laurent de Brunhoff

Now, eighty years after the first Babar story was published, there is still a huge franchise and culture surrounding the books. There are over 30 published stories, including Babar’s USA, Babar Goes to School, and Babar’s Celesteville Games, the latest Babar book, all of which were published in the 2000s. There have also been television shows and short movies based on the books. Also popular today is the children’s show “Babar and the Adventures of Badou.” It made the stories and characters more accessible to the next generation of Babar lovers. Children might also enjoy the website, which includes games, videos and activities.

Although not explicitly stated, the story does teach that those who love can take many forms, shapes, and sizes. This could be a good lesson to teach children as they begin school and start to meet kids who may be of a different ethnicity or religion. The story shows that the old lady and Babar loved each other even though one was human and the other elephant. All the books and subsequent Babar stories teach about loving each other, regardless of species. 

We hope that you will enjoy spreading the love of a little elephant with many children in your life.

Happy Reading!

~Claire and Melissa


One response »

  1. Claire and Melissa. I personally love Babar stories and they are an oldie but a goodie in the children's picture book world. This review is extremely detailed in that it gives the premise of the story as well as the history of the author and how these stories even came to be. It is interesting that these stores came from bedtime stores because Babar is such a calming book for young children, which is perfect for bed time! Great job guys!

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