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The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
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The Story of Babar

by Jean de Brunhoff

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Series: Babar (1)

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Originally published in 1931 as Histoire de Babar, le petite éléphant, this classic children's picture-book, the first of a number of titles to chronicle the adventures of its eponymous elephantine hero, has sparked quite a bit of debate in the field of children's literature. Condemned by some as a colonialist fantasy - most notably, see Herbert R. Kohl's Should We Burn Babar?: Essays on Children's Literature and the Power of Stories - and defended by others as a comic parody of that fantasy - see Adam Gopnik's essay, Freeing the Elephants: What Babar Brought, published in The New Yorker magazine - it seems to excite quite a bit of commentary from adult readers. Whether child readers perceive these themes, or are harmed by them, is another question altogether.

Although not one of my great favorites as a girl, I do vaguely recall reading the Babar books when young, and while I can't remember any of the specifics regarding my reaction to them - clearly, as my friends and family can attest, they didn't turn me into an apologist for colonialism - I liked them well enough. Rereading this as an adult, I was struck by how very un-sweet this supposedly sweet tale is, and I'm not thinking of the colonialist themes alone. From Babar's mother being shot in front of his eyes, to the former elephant king dropping dead (in a shriveled green heap!) after eating a poisoned mushroom, there's plenty here that might be considered traumatic. Oddly enough, I don't remember any of that from my childhood reading either, which suggests that my younger self was focused more on the adventure as a whole, rather than on specific incidents. Or perhaps that I was just less bothered by the traumatic than I am currently?

In any case, in answer to the question of whether we should we burn Babar - no, obviously not. Nor should we ban him, or try to dissuade others from reading him. The book is certainly a little dated, and it reflects the colonial reality of its day, but I'm undecided as to whether it praises and/or defends that reality, rather than just referencing it, the way so many stories reference the zeitgeist of their time, and am uncomfortable with the notion of condemning it, when the reasons for doing so are not clear to me. I suppose if I felt more strongly about the story itself - unlike the artwork, which I find charming, I am largely indifferent to the narrative - I would find it easier to decide. ( )
1 vote AbigailAdams26 | Apr 26, 2013 |
The story itself is nothing too unique or amazing, but has a very clear and sweet plot that would be easy for younger readers to follow. The story and illustrations do feel a tad dated, but I feel that younger readers would be able to overlook that. One point to note is that a couple characters do die in the process of the story, though it is nothing graphic or dramatic. The story follows Babar's journey as he heads to a city and becomes a gentleman with the assistance of his friend the Old Lady, and his later journey back home to become elephant king.

Reading Level: 3.1 ( )
  Kaitlyn.Johnston | Feb 16, 2013 |
Growing up in France, this was a classic french storybook that all children read, like our equivalent of Curious George.
  kidsread | Oct 25, 2011 |
This books made me feel physically ill. This book symbolized to me every empirical society that enslaves another with their value system and how those enslaved put on the chains willingly. It is a great book to use as a historical connections. The one that immediately came to me was the Brahmaṇ and how many of them sold their souls to their colonizers for personals gains.
  frances2791 | Aug 16, 2011 |
When a hunter kills his mother, Babar runs away. This story is about the adventure that ensues for Babar.
  bradleykimbrell | Apr 8, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean de Brunhoffprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Haas, Merle S.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mitten im Urwald ist ein kleiner Elefant auf die Welt gekommen.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0394805755, Hardcover)

The Story of Babar--the early adventures of the enduring, endearing elephant--was written in 1931 by French writer Jean de Brunhoff (1899-1937). Since then, it has been translated into at least 12 languages. It's amazing how much can happen to one little elephant in the course of one little book: Babar loses his mother to a hunter, wanders into the city, gets a new wardrobe, becomes the hit of high society, marries his cousin Céleste (totally acceptable in contemporary Elephantine society), and is crowned King of the Elephants.

The Story of Babar is essentially the tale of a country boy who comes to the city and, while there, comes of age. In the end, he returns home to share his knowledge and experiences with family and friends. The beautiful, delightfully detailed illustrations--de Brunhoff was a painter by trade--never fail to amuse. (Although none of the characters seem to notice, the sight of Babar in a suit leaning against the mantel while he regales his audience with tales of the jungle is plainly hilarious.) All of the Babar books are notable for their ability to tell larger stories with simplicity and style, and The Story of Babar is no exception. Potentially troubling moments--the death of Babar's mother, for example--are handled with taste, emphasizing Babar's unique gift for uncovering a silver lining in the most persistent of clouds. (Ages 4 to 8, though the cursive writing makes it best for reading aloud.)

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:24 -0400)

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When his mother is killed by a hunter, Babar the baby elephant must learn to fend for himself.

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