BOOK REVIEWS

The Story of Babar (Babar Books (Random House)) Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2019-05-27 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 0 user ratings
ISBN:0394805755
LANGUAGE: English

"I first learnt about this book from Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science or some other book by Richard Dawkins, I don't remember exactly. What I do remember is that he mentioned Babar as something he used to read to his daughter. It sounded like a reason enough to give it a try.

I wish I didn't. My five-year-old is ok with the book, of course, since he can't recognize in it what I can. I guess in 1933, when it was published, a book like that was totally fine for children; just a normal life, wasn't it? Unfortunately, it's totally not ok now. Too much colonial by any standards.

Babar's loving mother is shot, while he is still a kid (a toddler by the feel of it, since he rides on her back at that moment). He wanders in the forest for a few days, during which he apparently matures enough. Without further ado he comes to a city, where he leads a life of a young gigolo for a few years. Then an accident makes him decide to return to the forest, which he does pompously. Meanwhile, the elephant king is conveniently poisoned, and Babar, having learnt the proper ways in the city, becomes a king (making his cousin he met that very day his queen).

The only way it can be read today is assuming it a social satire. Maybe it even have been that from the beginning, it's hard to judge. But satire is not a genre a kid still reading picture books can understand, so it's definitely not suited for children. The book is described by many as a children's classic, but in my view it's more of a relic.
" said.

"I am opening a bookstore. And yes, of course, it is a life-long dream. Tried to just after my divorce thirty years ago and now, here it is again. The wheel has turned. So despite the worry and work of starting a business (state, federal busy.ness), I get to procure books. At first I thought I would just sell my collection - then there was the heartbreak of actually parting from the majority - which I decided not to do one tearful night.

So many people are donating books to salve my soul and save my books from missing me too. Friends, writing group members, strangers. My one family member - willing to part with her books - the only problem with that is that, besides the fantasy and science fiction and vampires she reads, there are so many I've been longing to read from her collection. Can I part with them? Will book buyers have to pass a test on loving the books before I am willing to accept their money? So many lessons. . .

And I don't accept any moldy or smokey (tobacco) books. Because I have to live with them too while they visit on my shelves, now alphabetized and priced.

Now here's the best ever part: I get to garner books from old library collections and barns and garage sales.

Yesterday, in Olive, how appropriate, I found a real gem - not the $38K first edition of Old Man and the Sea, I had that hanging out on my bookshelves all along. Or it would have been except for the gin spilled on it sometimes in the sixties.

Babar! Totally political incorrect but what memories of Mama Sallie reading it to me then my reading it to my children. The charming ride by a naked elephant up and down the 1890's elevator in Paris on his way to buy spats. Let's not debate how enlightened we all are about the really awfulness of it. But a treasure of childhood. And then I found a copy of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. And a cookbook by Jacques Pepin. Nostalgia of a life of loving books, and the thick paper, and darling drawings. Books Lost but always loved, then suddenly FOUND.

Opening day, Memorial Day, May 31, after the parade in Andes.
" said.

"Lucy Mangan in her book Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading has said everything I thought about Babar but did not know how to put into words. Here's a flavour... "He was lumberingly dull." "Honestly whose first thought when they pitch up in an unimagined, unexplored city is to buy a suit of clothes?"

I discovered Babar when joyfully exploring my local library as a child. Signed up as soon as I could actually read ( aged 4) the library became a regular Saturday treat. 3 tickets equalling 3 books to take home were never enough, so many more were satisfyingly consumed sitting cross-legged on the floor while mum browsed the adult ( aka boring) shelves upstairs. Thus Babar... Instantly attactive with its bright paintbox colours, but curiously boring, was discovered. As far as I can recall a precious ticket was never wasted on him.

Years later when my son was born a distant memory of Babar... As being slightly exotic somehow.... Led me to invest in Babar's Anniversary Album: 6 Favorite Books but my son's view was evidently the same as mine. While other children's books were delightedly chosen over and over again until they literally fell to pieces Babar remained in pristine condition. A second son and a daughter later led to further testing of the Babar story. My daughter liked the absurdity and, fuelled by an animated version, was more appreciative. Existential and political overtones were never, thankfully, raised.

Mangan speculates .... is Babar truly the "fulfilment of dominant countries' colonial dream " as postulated by playwright Ariel Dorfman, or ' a self-conscious comedy about the French colonial imagination'? I tend to agree with Mangan's conclusion.... This latter is probably nearer the truth but wasted on 4-7 year olds.
" said.

"My kids got this book as a hand-me-down from someone (the inscription on the cover is "To Ben, Christmas 1974," but we don't have any Ben's in the immediate family), and lately my three-year-old has been requesting it almost every night. Frankly, as with many French things, I don't see the appeal.

The story is just trippy and bizarre. Babar is born in a forest and cavorts with cousins until one day a hunter kills his mama. It's very sad for about half a sentence, and then Babar runs off to a city, where he is enchanted by fancy cars and sophisticated gentlemen, and decides he needs some clothes. He finds a sugar mama (named only "Old Lady"), who gives him money and anything else he wants, and he lives in Gatsbyesque opulence until one day his cousins Arthur and Celeste show up. Arthur and Celeste are still children, and Babar buys them clothes (children's playclothes, not suits like his own wardrobe) and entertains them by buying them pastries until their mothers show up to bring them home. At that point, Babar realizes he misses the forest and decides to go with them (taking Old Lady's car when he goes).

While Babar is on his way back to the forest, the Elephant King eats a bad mushroom and dies (no, I am not making this up), so the elephants need a new king. When Babar arrives, the Elephant Elders say, "Oooh, look, he's got the fanciest clothes and a snazzy car; let's make him our king." Babar agrees to take the job, but announces that he and Celeste (who, let's not forget, is a) a child, and b) Babar's cousin) are now engaged. They send a camel-errand boy back to the city to buy more fancy clothes for the wedding/coronation, and then they have a big party. The End.

I think my son must like the illustrations, but I'm put off by the rampant consumerism (your mama's dead? Go shopping!) and entitlement (Old Lady gives Babar anything he wants, and then the elephants make him King, just because). This book is also my son's first introduction to the concept of guns (my wife read it to him without previewing it first), as a hunter shoots Babar's mother just a few pages into the story, and the gun is drawn with flames coming out of the barrel. To my chagrin, our son is full of questions about the gun--what it is, what it does, what the fire is, why--but doesn't seem to grasp that Babar's MAMA IS DEAD.
" said.

" While this is a classic, I don’t want to read this book to my kid anymore. I don’t like the messages about colonialism or trivializing the death of Babar’s mom, etc.Nice illustrations tho. " said.

"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.
" said.

" My fourth book for Banned Books Week. This was a pretty fun book to read, though also sad (in the beginning). " said.

"Babar is a shopaholic? After his mother is murdered and he is chased by the hunter who did, his first desire is to...buy some sharp looking threads? And when Celeste and Arthur visit him for the first time in the city, what does he do? Buy them clothes of course! And when he returns with Celeste and Arthur to the jungle in his swanky new car(nice image there; Celeste and Arthur's mothers have to run behind the car with their trunks held up to avoid the belching smoke), what does he do when told he is the new elephant king? Why, tell everyone he and Celeste are getting married and will require (wait for it)...new clothes! Such adventure." said.

August 2019 New Book:

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