France by the Book: Recommended Reads for Young Travelers
|Choosing the right pre-trip reading can help make your kids' trip to the City of Light even more delightful. Photo by Rachel Worthman|
If you're planning a family trip to France, consider picking up some related books at your local bookstore or library. Books — and the historical perspective they provide — can make Versailles come alive and help the Carnavalet Museum feel like a carnival ride. (Okay, that last one is a stretch, but a little background into the sights you plan to see will keep everyone from going in-Seine in Paris.)
The books on this list come from Steve Smith — co-author of the guidebooks to Paris, France, and Provence and the French Riviera — with additional recommendations from Abigail Altman, owner of the excellent English-language Parisian shop, the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore.
For Younger Children
The Madeline stories by Ludwig Bemelmans are classics, and the drawings include landmarks such as the Sacré-Cœur, Notre-Dame and the Pont Neuf bridge. Miroslav Sasek wrote many picture books for the cities of the world, including This Is Paris; the books — which were originally written in the 1960s — were recently reprinted and are now readily available.
Anni's Diary of France, by Anni Axworthy, is a colorful picture book that includes spots travelers to France are likely to visit (the Louvre, Mont St. Michel and chateaux in the Loire region). The Cat Who Walks Across France begins its feline adventure in Rouen and ends in St-Tropez — with plenty of stops along the way. Crêpes by Suzette explores Paris' city scene (and even includes a crêpe recipe).
The Red Balloon — written byAlbert Lamorisse and loaded with photographs — follows Pascal through the city of Paris. In Barbara McClintock's Adèle and Simon, two children make their way through the markets and neighborhoods of the City of Light. In A Spree in Paree, a farmer takes his animals into the capital city for a big day out.
For Older Children and Teens
Plenty of classic works of literature can engage the imagination of avid teen readers, including the works of Victor Hugo: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Misérables, set during the French Revolution. Alexandre Dumas is still renowned for The Three Musketeers, which includes scenes in Paris. Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities alsobrings the turbulence of the French Revolution to life.
If you'll be visiting castles, How Would You Survive in the Middle Ages?, by Fiona MacDonald, is an appealing "guide" for kids. Serious kid historians will devour The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia. In Cathedral, David Macauley re-creates the building of a French Gothic cathedral in detailed pen-and-ink sketches.
If your children are interested in art, get your hands on The History of Art for Young People by Anthony Janson and Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters by MaryAnn Kohl.
For a primer on French culture — appropriate for about ages eight through 12 — try Getting To Know France and the French by Nicola Wright. Young fans of graphic novels may enjoy Brian Selznik's The Inventions of Hugo Cabret, about a boy lives in a Parisian train station and fixes the clocks.