C’est la Fête!: French Reads for All Ages

Allons enfants de la patrie,

Le jour de gloire est arrivé!

July 14 marks the celebration of Bastille Day, but you’ll probably hear me calling it by its French names: la Fête nationale (the National Celebration) or simply le quatorze juillet (meaning the 14th of July, bien sûr!).

Although the French Revolution took place almost a century earlier, July 14 did not become the national holiday we know today until 1880, when Parliament declared a day of celebration to honor France’s rebuilding in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War and the Siege of Paris. This first Fête also ushered in a renewed use of the old Revolutionary motto Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity), now an integral part of French national identity.

Today, la Fête is celebrated in France and all over the world with fireworks, parades, and rousing renditions of the national anthem, La Marseillaise. For me, as a dual citizen of France and the US, the day is an opportunity to both celebrate the survival and accomplishments of my family and country, and to reflect on the ways we can change and grow to create a better future for France and the greater global community.

Here are a few of my favorite books for all ages featuring French stories, authors, and illustrators.

Bonne fête!

Blanche Hates the Night, by Sibylle Delacroix

Blanche does not like the night, and she will do just about anything to keep from falling asleep! Increasingly creative attempts to avoid bedtime show Blanche’s willful, sensitive personality. Muted artwork bathed in shadows mimic the shades of night in this ideal bedtime read-aloud by French author and illustrator Sibylle Delacroix.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, by Patricia Hruby Powell

In exuberant verse and stirring pictures, Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson create an extraordinary portrait of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Josephine’s powerful story of struggle and triumph is an inspiration and a spectacle, just like the legend herself.

Tomi Ungerer: A Treasury of 8 Books, by Tomi Ungerer 

This glorious treasury brings together eight iconic tales by French artist and storyteller Tomi Ungerer, featuring well-known classics (The Three Robbers, Moon Man, Otto), acclaimed recent works (Fog Island), and lost gems (Zeralda’s Ogre, Flix, The Hat, and Emile). Special features include anecdotes about each story, photos, and previously unpublished materials from the making of some of Ungerer’s most celebrated works, such as storyboards, sketches, photographs, and images that inspired him.

Sardine in Outer Space, by Emmanuel Guibert

In the goofy space adventures of a little girl called Sardine, encounters aren’t always friendly: weird creatures, cosmic squids, masters of the universe, talking clouds, and evil beings abound. Sardine must enlist the help of her cousin Lou and her pirate uncle, the gruff Captain Yellow Shoulder, to outwit Supermuscleman and his evil plans. The first book in an exciting series by two of France’s most talented comics authors, Sardine is a feast for the imagination of young readers.

The Grand Mosque of Paris, by Karen Gray Ruelle

When the Nazis occupied Paris, no Jew was safe from arrest and deportation. Yet during that perilous time, many Jews found refuge in an unlikely place – the sprawling complex of the Grand Mosque of Paris. Not just a place of worship but a community center, this hive of activity was an ideal temporary hiding place for escaped prisoners of war and Jews of all ages, especially children.

Beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched , this hopeful non-fiction book introduces children to a little-known part of history. Perfect for children studying World War II or those seeking a heart-warming, inspiring read that highlights extraordinary heroism.

Louis Undercover, by Fanny Britt

A stunning new graphic novel from Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, the award-winning creators of Jane, the Fox and Me. In this powerful story, we meet Louis, a young boy who shuttles between his alcoholic dad and his worried mom. Thankfully, Louis has his younger brother, Truffle, for company. Louis also has his friend Boris, with whom he spots ghost cop cars and spies on the love of his life, Billie.

A beautifully illustrated, true-to-life portrayal of just how complex family relationships can be, seen through the eyes of a wise, sensitive boy who manages to find his own way forward.

In Paris With You, by Clémentine Beauvais

For fans of Eleanor & Park and Emergency Contact, Clémentine Beauvais’ In Paris with You is a sweeping romance about the love that got away. Eugene and Tatiana could have fallen in love, if things had gone differently. If they had tried to really know each other, if it had just been them, and not the others. But that was years ago and time has found them far apart, leading separate lives. Until they meet again in Paris. What really happened back then? And could they ever be together again after everything?

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, by Jacques Pépin

In this captivating memoir, the man Julia Child called “the best chef in America” tells the story of his rise from a frightened apprentice in an exacting Old World kitchen to an Emmy Award winning superstar who taught millions of Americans how to cook.

The Apprentice is the poignant and sometimes funny tale of a boy’s coming of age. Beyond that, it is the story of America’s culinary awakening and the transformation of food from an afterthought to a national preoccupation. Included are approximately forty all-time favorite recipes created during the course of a career spanning nearly half a century, from his mother’s utterly simple cheese soufflé to his wife’s pork ribs and red beans.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death, by Jean-Dominique Bauby

In December 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the 43-year-old editor of French Elle, suffered a massive stroke that left him permanently paralyzed. Once known for his gregariousness and wit, Bauby now finds himself trapped in an inert body, able to communicate only by blinking his left eye.

In a voice that is by turns wistful and mischievous, angry and sardonic, Bauby gives us a celebration of the liberating power of consciousness: what it is like to spend a day with his children, to imagine lying in bed beside his wife, to conjure up the flavor of delectable meals even as he is fed through a tube. Most of all, this triumphant book lets us witness an indomitable spirit and share in the pure joy of its own survival.

-Melanie Bruchet, Youth Services Librarian

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