Recommend me some french comics or kids books!
July 15, 2009 6:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to learn French. I'm in France, which is a great start. I find I can just about manage with Tin Tin books so reckon that comics (BDs for the more francophone amongst you) or children's fiction will be a good way to relax whilst getting extra practice. Can you recommend some comics or kids books that are in French and not overly complicated linguistically? (I have tried Asterix, but the puns just fly past my confused brain).
posted by handee to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Do you think you can step it up to a children's novella?

When I learned French, The Little Prince was on virtually every beginner's reading list I came across.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:32 AM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

I found some really good children's book at the museum bookstores when I was in Paris. I found them helpful in their simplicity for sentence structure and grammar since I was pretty good at picking up the vocab.
posted by sio42 at 6:34 AM on July 15, 2009

Lucky Luke
posted by furtive at 6:42 AM on July 15, 2009

posted by ninebelow at 6:42 AM on July 15, 2009

And if you want to try books, go for Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.
posted by furtive at 6:45 AM on July 15, 2009

Also try translations of books you are familiar with-- your difficulties with puns (and I assume other linguistic subtleties) will be solved, especially if you have the english version close at hand.
posted by nax at 7:14 AM on July 15, 2009

I'll second Lucky Luke...

When I was a kid learning French, one of my favorites was Gaston. Also check out Spirou... I was in Paris recently, and was flipping through some of the newer Spirou books which looked amazing.
posted by smitt at 7:14 AM on July 15, 2009

posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:15 AM on July 15, 2009

I loved Le petit Nicolas.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:19 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

This was specifically the Spirou book I was looking at recently, and in retrospect, really shoulda bought.
posted by smitt at 7:22 AM on July 15, 2009

How about Simenon's Inspector Maigret mysteries? I think I recommended them before in a similar question. They have a very straightforward "here's what happened" structure and a noir-y tone (declarative sentences, broad character archetypes and actions, etc). They helped my comprehension a lot in high school.
posted by bcwinters at 7:34 AM on July 15, 2009

How about Asterix?
posted by pravit at 7:37 AM on July 15, 2009

Oops, I didn't read your question through, sorry. When I was learning French, I found graded readers very helpful. They start with very simple language and a fixed vocabulary, and gradually increase in difficulty as you go on.
posted by pravit at 7:39 AM on July 15, 2009

I second checking out children's books that you're already familiar with. Since I've been in Germany, I've been reading toooons of comics and kid's books. I've really enjoyed reading the old books I used to read in elementary school and middle school--Animorphs, Goosebumps, The Dark is Rising, etc. My local library also has a huge row of manga to peruse; I've been gobbling those up like candy.

Of course I don't catch everything. But I catch a heckuva lot more than when I attempt to read an adult-level mystery novel! ;)

One fun thing about reading translations of old favorites is that, many times, the references are changed to reflect the new country. For example, the original English version of one book had a sentence that said, "If she was a Coke, then I was just plain water." (Or something to that effect.) In the German translation, it said, "If she was an Apfelschörle (apple spritzer), then I was just Mineralwasser (mineral water)."

When I read that sentence, I about fell off my chair. The reference change was awesome. And so very German.

(Of course, you should also read new stuff originating from France. I've found a lot of really great German comic artists by being open to new things. I've also noticed that there are TONS of great French-language comics out there. I can't think of many of the top of my head, but your local library will probably have stacks of awesomeness. The comics by Trondheim that I've read in translation have been really fun. He's got a clean, simple art style. I recommend spending a lovely day sifting through the stacks and looking for pretty, pretty pictures.)
posted by ElectricBlue at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2009

When I was learning French, I read the French translations of the Harry Potter books from Gallimard Jeunesse. It was very interesting to see how they translated the wordplay of the books, and my familiarity with the English editions made it easier for me to pick things up from context.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:51 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love Asterix and would totally suggest you keep trying.

Are you the sort of person who rereads books? Do you have any favorite, ideally a little schlocky, novels that you know semi-by-heart? If so, get the French translation. You will already know what's going on, and it makes reading a lot easier. I have lots of old Stephen King in French, as well as beloved classics like Austen. But any book you know well will work.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:57 AM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was just in Paris, and found an awesome, beautiful, 3-book-so-far BD series called "Alim le tanneur". There are three books in the series so far, and a fourth is due out, I believe, late this year.

It takes place in a vaguely ancient middle-Eastern alternate universe (all the animals are non-standard, invented geography, etc.) and themes include the role of religion in politics, the emergence of secular/economic society, oppression of classes (the title character and his daughter are "hors-castes") -- all within a compelling, engaging story that made me finish each book in one evening even though I'm really terrible at reading French.

When I got home, I wrote (rough) translations of all three books for my fiancé and my brother. I've since accidentally deleted the translation for book 2, but if you have book 1 and would like my translation, contact me and I'll send it. (the translation will make no sense without holding the book in your hands).

The artist worked as part of Disney France, and the art is, according to my fiancé, exquisite (and, to me, slightly reminiscent of a Disney film -- in a good way). It was very highly recommended by the bookstore owner, who, when I returned to purchase books 2 and 3, gave me a postcard of an illustration from the series -- signed by the artist!

Also - the owner of Univers BD - I think it's in the 10ème arrondissement) -- not only gave me this postcard, but on my first visit he spent a generous amount of time helping me select BD books (despite my terrible French). I recommend this store in particular if you can visit Paris.

I told the owner I wanted something for my illustrator brother who liked to draw "les monstres mignons" and he led me right to a series called "Monster Allergy" (yes, the title is English), which is an easy read, somewhat engaging, but maybe a little juvenile -- if you go there, you can take a look at it. Also, there were a couple of important words that I had to interpolate: the main characters are "dompteurs" which is a kind of animal tamer (like a lion tamer, I think), only they work with monsters. The main females are "abriteuses", which I couldn't find in any dictionary, but "abri" means shelter, so I think their role is to take care of / shelter the monsters. Which are cute, in a crude way.
posted by amtho at 9:11 AM on July 15, 2009

Gaston Lagaffe
posted by jouke at 10:19 AM on July 15, 2009

If Astérix is too advanced for you at this point I wouldn't necessarily recommend Léonard and Gaston LaGaffe yet even though they're amazing - they both have tons of tricky, punny language. But heck, why not keep trying? Looking through my giant collection of French comics, simpler ones I have are Boule et Bill and Les Schtroumpfs. Lucky Luke was always my favorite - Goscinny, the main author, also wrote Astérix and Le Petit Nicholas.
posted by ORthey at 11:51 AM on July 15, 2009

posted by ORthey at 11:51 AM on July 15, 2009

Seconding Le Petit Nicolas -- adorable, absolutely charming with cute illustrations -- and Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers (sorry for my lack of accents).
posted by fantine at 12:27 PM on July 15, 2009

Yes yes yes on Le Petit Nicolas, was used for reading by one of my French teachers and I totally loved it.

I also recommend, as some others have, finding a french translation of an english book you lke; it'll help you with all the tricky contextual stuff and you'll pick it up faster. Also look for original versions of french books you might have read in english.
posted by Billegible at 3:11 PM on July 15, 2009

Seconding Fifthing Nicolas!
posted by Catch at 4:30 PM on July 15, 2009

Actually, I'd suggest some of the more "serious" graphic-novel-type BDs out there. In keeping with the serious, earnest register of most of the characters, there is generally much less wordplay and much more straightforward plot/character development. Also, if you're currently in France and there's a TV, try checking out the 24-hour news channel, France24, which airs in both French and English. Finally, take advantage of, which posts nearly everything in English and French; put the RSS feed for the French headlines in your news reader and then you can figure out the confusing bits by comparing it to English coverage.
posted by LMGM at 5:22 PM on July 15, 2009

Also try translations of books you are familiar with-- your difficulties with puns (and I assume other linguistic subtleties) will be solved, especially if you have the english version close at hand.

This will not work for Astérix - which you found difficult to read: the puns are excellent in both languages, but they usually have completely different meanings. I second the other suggestions.
posted by aroberge at 5:38 PM on July 15, 2009

Just popping in to say thanks for all your suggestions. I REALLY enjoyed the little prince, and have begun to re-read it already.

On the Asterix point, I have recently discovered that the father of a friend did some of the English translations. Apparently, they had to work out how many puns-per-page there were in the French version, and aim for the same pun-density in the English. Not a straight translation job at all!
posted by handee at 4:28 AM on September 7, 2009

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