Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most effective. Cheaper than a trip to France, and just as meaningful, a book can help you travel the world. And a children’s book can teach your child about different cultures and traditions without the fuss of getting on a plane and going abroad.
There are so many wonderful French children’s books available today that it can be hard to choose from them all. Kids’ books have always been an important part of French culture, with many great titles that are classics and have stood the test of time.
As a parent here in Paris, these are the books that I have noticed are the most popular in stores, and with parents. I’ve broken down the French language books by age, so that you can find the titles that will most appeal to your kids.
For older children, I’ve picked titles that are classics, some of which are read in classrooms as part of literature reading. I should also note that if you have children who prefer to read comic books (pictures always help!), here is my list of the best French comics.
I will always believe that children should be eager readers, and that they should have an opportunity to learn about far off places through the written word. And so with that, here are the best French Children’s books for kids of all ages.
- I. For Toddlers and Small Children – Easy Vocabulary
- II. School-age Children – Intermediate Vocabulary
- III. Older Children and Teenagers – Bilingual versions
I. For Toddlers and Small Children – Easy Vocabulary
1. P’tit Loup – Little Wolf
The P’tit Loup (meaning “Little Wolf”) series is a classic. Wolves play a large role in the French imagination, and to contrast with the wicked wolf in Little Red Riding hood and other stories, P’tit Loup is a toddler who is just trying to navigate his daily routine with his parents.
Written by Orianne Lallemand and illustrated by Éléonore Thuillier, there are numerous books in this series that toddlers will enjoy. With everything from going to bed to baking a cake, little kids will enjoy reading about his quotidien.
2. Petit Ours Brun – Little Brown Bear
Another favorite of the pre-schooler set is Petit Ours Brun, meaning Little Brown Bear. It began originally as a story in the French magazine Pomme d’Api in 1975, before being turned into a book, and eventually a tv cartoon series.
The story is about a little bear who is 3 years old and aims to be a good little kid, despite his first instincts. There are hundreds of stories in the Petit Ours Brun series, so your little one is bound to be entertained for hours.
Aimed at more or less the same crowd as Petit Ours Brun, T’choupi is another favorite. This time as a young penguin, this French children’s books series created by Thierry Courtin.
Pronounced choo-pi, the books have become so popular, they have also been turned into a tv series as well as been converted into English.
II. School-age Children – Intermediate Vocabulary
1. Les Malheurs de Sophie – Sophie’s Misfortunes
Les Malheurs de Sophie, which translates into English as “Sophie’s Misfortunes” is a children’s book written by the Countess of Ségur. Born Sofiya Feodorovna Rostopchina, the author was of Russian origin and became a countess when her husband was made a Peer (Comte) of France.
The book was first published in 1858, and republished several times since. The story is set in a castle in the French countryside, during the 2nd French Empire, under the reign of Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte).
Sophie is a naughty and adventurous little girl who lives with her parents and enjoys getting into trouble. Do things always work out? Read the book to find out!
2. Le Chat Botté – Puss in Boots
You may be surprised to know that Puss in Boots, aka Chat Botté, is French. Written by famous French author Charles Perrault in the 16th century, his other book titles include:
- Mother Goose
- Little Red Riding Hood
- Cinderella (adapted version from Grimm Brothers)
- Sleeping Beauty (adapted version from Grimm Brothers)
Charles Perrault worked as a secretary at the Château de Breteuil outside of Paris, where some of his most famous works were written.
The story is about an anthropomorphic cat, who is gifted to a penniless young man. Puss, however, sets off to make his master’s fortune, using clever lies to attract the attention of the King and help his master marry the King’s daughter, a beautiful (and rich) princess.
Young readers will enjoy admire the cat’s ingenuity and hold their breath, as Puss in Boots courts disaster. You can purchase the bilingual version of Puss in Boots and other stories by Charles Perrault below.
3. Arsene Lupin – Maurice LeBlanc
If your child enjoys mysteries like Sherlock Holmes, they will enjoy Arsene Lupin. Written by writer Maurice LeBlanc in the early 20th century, Arsene Lupin is not a detective but a gentleman thief.
Clever and resourceful, Lupin has the ability to quickly transform his appearance as he moves from one adventure to the next, in a collection of short stories.
The series is so popular, it has even been turned into a tv show on Netflix.
4. Prince de Motordu – Pef
Kids who are advanced in French will quite enjoy the stories of the Prince of Motordu, written by Pierre Élie Ferrier, who goes by the initals Pef.
The full title of the 1st story in the set is La belle lisse poire du prince de Motordu, meaning “the beautiful smooth pear of the Prince of Motordu”.
If that doesn’t make any sense, it is because it is a play on words. Lisse poire as in “smooth pear” rhymes with histoire as in “story”. The actual title is “the beautiful stories of the Prince of Motordu.
In the stories, the young prince of Motordu is invited by a young schoolteacher, Princess Dézécolle, to “put language back in place”. And thus young readers are launched into his colorful world of fun.
In France the book is targeted at primary school readers, so the words are not difficult, but readers should have at least an intermediate level to be able to understand the jokes.
You can purchase a set of 6 stories from the Prince Motordu series below.
5. Madeleine – Ludwig Bemelmans
Written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans in 1939, Madeleine has remained a classic French novel for kids even since it was published.
Set in Paris, the stories are written in a rhyming style and feature a little red-haired girl named Madeleine who attends boarding school. Each book starts with the following:
|Il y longtemps, à Paris,
dans une vieille maison aux murs recouverts de vigne
vivaient douze petites filles.
La plus petite s’appelait Madeleine.
|(A long time ago)
In an old house in Paris
That was covered in vines
Lived twelve little girls
The smallest one was Madeline.
There are seven stories in all, with the final book bring Madeleine to the United States to inherit a fortune.
6. Contes de la rue Broca – Stories of Broca Street
There are 13 tales in the stories of Broca street, each written by Pierre Gripari and illustrated by Claude Lapointe.
The most famous of this French children’s book series is La Sorcière de la rue Mouffetard, meaning the witch of rue Mouffetard. (Rue Mouffetard is a pedestrianized street lined with shops in the middle of Paris’s 5th arrondissement in the Latin quarter.)
Each story features different characters, with some of the characters making guest appearances in different stories.
7. Le Petit Nicolas – René Goscinny
Another classic children’s book in French is Le Petit Nicolas. The main character, Nicolas himself, recounts his stories from a personal point of view with plenty of character and humor.
Set in the 1960s, the story titles are rather ordinary with Nicolas playing in the school yard, going on holiday, and spending time at home. But much of the humor derives from Nicolas’ misunderstanding of adults’ behavior in these rather basic situations.
Nicolas thinks things should be rather straightforward, and doesn’t always understand all the machinations that adults get involved in. His uncomplicated child’s point of view exposes the flaws of adult perception.
III. Older Children and Teenagers – Bilingual versions
If you have older children, it can be difficult to get them to read books that are age-appropriate in a language that is not their native tongue, and still keep it interesting. The following books have been chosen because they come in French, with the English text side by side. The perfect way to learn new words in French and still keep it interesting.
1. Le Petit Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The incontournable of French books always has to be Le Petit Prince. At first glance, le Petit Prince seems like a book for small children. However, once you start to read it, the layers of wisdom that the book doles out are worthy of reading for adults and kids alike.
The story follows a pilot lost in the desert after a crash-landing, who starts to hallucinate and comes upon a young prince. The prince is visiting various planets in space, including Earth, and through the story and discussion, the book addresses themes of sadness, friendship, love, and loss.
The Little Prince is one of the highest-selling books of all time in France. You can buy the French-English bilingual version below.
2. Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
A historical novel written by famed novelist Alexandre Dumas, the 3 musketeers is a book filled with adventure and intrigue.
A young man named D’Artagnan travels to Paris hoping to become a musketeer, one of the French king’s elite bodyguards, only to be robbed of his letter of introduction and instead getting into a duel with the 3 musketeers (of the title) – Athos, Porthos and Aramis.
After a confluence of events, he manages to win their trust and must work with them to thwart the various spies and characters who are threatening the King and the very state of France.
You can buy the French-English bilingual version below.
3. Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo
The Hunchback of Notre Dame may have been remade by Disney, but the original story is a bit different.
The story is set in 1482, when a Romani woman named Esmeralda captures the heart of a deformed young man named Quasimodo. Quasimodo lives isolated in the Notre-Dame de Paris, hiding in plain sight of the bustling city, under the protection of the Cathedral’s Archdeacon.
The Archdeacon and Captain of the guards are also in love with her, with an ensuing tug of war, all set in the heart of medieval Paris.
Note: this is a series of 3 books with bilingual translation with the French – English versions presented together.
So have you found a book that you would like to introduce to your child? If you are looking for books for yourself, you can find more French books for beginners learning French, as well as bilingual editions.
You can also read about more about my top resources for kids to learn French. A bientôt!