8 Easy French books for beginners

When trying to learn a language, there is nothing like reading a good book. Here are the best French books for beginners, easy to read and entertaining to boot.
8 Easy French books for beginners
Library at Chateau de Chantilly outside of Paris, France
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A book is a great way to learn a language. But if you are a new to the French language, it can be intimidating to pick up a French book and just start reading.

However, there are plenty of French books for beginners to tackle to practise your language skills, while remaining engaging. While there are plenty of other resources to learn French, reading in French is particularly important. As a native anglophone myself, I became well-aware when I arrived in France, that there are certain French words that are not the easiest to pronounce.

Spoken French requires a good ear to distinguish between words that sound similar to the non-native ear, especially if you are a beginner in French.

For example, fois, foi, and foie are all pronounced exactly the same way in spoken French. They however translate to “times”, “faith”, and “liver” respectively. It is the context and any slight differences in pronunciation that give the listener the clue as which one of the 3 is being referred to. Much simpler then if you want to learn French, to start reading in French to get a feel for the language.

Besides, you might like it. France is acclaimed for its novelists and writers, and many of the best French books have been translated into English, and even turned into movies.

Now there are many genres of classic French books out there. The French language has often been associated with romanticism and art, but it is also renowned for its use in politics, science, and media.

I would recommend starting with the genre that interests you because if you don’t like the topic, you are not going to be interested in reading a whole book on it.

I’ve tried to pick a range of novels that are well-known and sure to appeal to a broad audience. And so without further ado, here are my top French books for beginners. Allons-y!

1. Le Petit Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Le Petit Prince may seem like a children’s book, but it was never intended to be. The language may be easy enough for children (and beginners in French) to follow, but once you start to read it, you start to uncover the layers of wisdom that the book doles out.

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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.

With topics of sadness, friendship, love, and loss that the book addresses, this is worthy reading for adults and kids alike.

The Petit Prince is one of the highest-selling books of all time in France, with the book being required reading in schools in France as well as for French language learners.

You can find more French children’s books here.

Buy Now – Bilingual edition

2. Voyage au centre de la Terre – Jules Verne

If you enjoy science fiction, this classic French novel by Jules Verne is a must. Translated into English as a “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, the book was written in 1864, and since sold millions of copies around the world.

The story revolves around a German geology professor, Otto Lidenbrock, who discovers an ancient document showing a dormant volcano that has a path to the center of the Earth through a series of caverns.

Along with his nephew Axel, he tries to decode the mystery and follow the instructions deep within the earth. Along the way they find creatures and plants from earlier epochs.

And getting back? Their journey back to the surface is just as harrowing as the trip down. 

Buy Now – Bilingual edition

3. Asterix and Obelix – René Goscinny

Asterix and Obelix may be a comic book, but that is precisely why it should be on the reading list of beginners trying to learn French. The language is easy, and pictures fill in when you stumble upon a word you don’t know.

Written by Frenchman René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo for the magazine Pilote, the comic is set in the era of Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire. Each comic book starts off with the quote:

The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely… One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium…

Asterix & Obelix

Gaul is the name of old France and in the era before Christianity, our héros Asterix and Obelix belong to one of the Celtic tribes who are fighting the dastardly Romans. With the help of a few magical druid potions, of course.

The story goes to the heart of France, or at least what French people would like to imagine it to be. There is a reason that the large theme park Parc Asterix is one of the largest attractions in France. (For info, Brittany in France today still has a strong Celtic tradition. And if you are wondering where Halloween started off, wonder no more.)

With plenty of laughs and silly Romans hanging about, our heroes meet everyone from Cleopatra to a magic carpet in India. The comic books have gone on to sell millions of copies of their comics and make several full-length movies.

Buy Asterix and Obelix here.

4. Le Comte de Monte-Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

One of the most popular classic books in France remains Alexandre Dumas’s novel the Comte of Monte Cristo. The book was written in the mid 19th century, and takes place after the Napoleon is exiled to the island of Elba (before he makes his comeback), a time of much trauma and upheaval.

The story revolves around Dantes, a French sailor, who is falsely accused of treason. A group of other sailers, including a character named Fernand wants Dantes’ girlfriend Mercedes for himself, and come up with the plot to get rid of him.

Dante is captured carrying a letter from Napoleon to his supporters, and thus accused of high crimes against the state. He is imprisoned on the island prison of Chateau d’If near Marseille for 13 years.

For prison, he plots revenge against those who betrayed him. With the help of Abbé Faria, an Italian priest with a secret fortune, he escapes the island. Dante finds Faria’s fortune and transforms himself into the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo as part of his plan to exact revenge.

Buy Now – Bilingual edition

5. La Comédie Humaine – Honoré de Balzac 

La Comédie Humaine is a collection of short stories written by Honoré de Balzac in the mid-19th century. It contains 91 finished works, including a variety of stories, novels, and essays.

The stories cover a broad range of topics from money, power, women, and society, set in the period after the French Revolution.

The intrigue of the various aspects of life in France makes for interesting reading, with Balzac tackling even topics considered “unsuitable” to provide real insights. Although Balzac was already a famous author at the time, the stories took a while to be translated into English, since it was considered improper for Victorian audiences in England.

Now while this might sound like the easiest of reading for a beginner, what helps here is that the stories are short and that there is a bilingual edition available.

Buy Now – Bilingual edition

6. Vingt mille lieues sous les mers – Jules Verne

The full title in French is Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin, but you may have heard of this classic book before under the name “20000 Leagues Under the Seas: A World Tour Underwater”.

Written in 1870, the book follows the adventures of a French marine biologist named Pierre Aronnax. A mysterious sea monster has been attacking ships and an American expedition is assembled to put a stop to the matter. Pierre and his assistant Conseil join the mission to find out the truth.

Along with Canadian harpoonist Ned Land, they are thrown overboard during the attack and find themselves prisoners of Captain Nemo.

The “monster” is actually a technologically advanced submarine named the Nautilus. The three companions get to experience the vast and endlessly fascinating world under the sea. 

This classic adventure tale combines political commentary and scientific utopia all in one. There have been several film adaptations of the story, but why not read the original in French? With bilingual translation, of course.

Buy Now – Bilingual edition

7. Le tour du monde en 80 jours – Jules Verne

You may be able to tell we love Jules Verne, but there is a reason for it. His works have an extraordinary ability to transport you to another time and place. Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingt jours is otherwise known in English as “Around the world in 80 days”.

The work tells the story of the unflappable fellow named Phileas Fogg’s trip around the world, to win a bet. He is a bit of a perfectionist and is a member of an exclusive English society known as the exclusive Reform Club.

Fogg places a £20,000 bet which is about half his fortune (would be £2.5 million today), that he can travel around the world in 80 days. His new French valet, Passepartout, is to accompany him.

Liquidating the other half of his assets to take with them on their journey, the two set off to Calais and then India Believing Fogg to be a bank robber who has recently stolen a lot of money, Detective Fix of Scotland Yard follows them.

They are then joined by Aouda, an Indian Princess and a widow, who jumps at the chance to accompany them.

Do Fogg and his little party make it around the world in time and save the rest of his fortune? You can read the bilingual edition to find out!

Buy Now – Bilingual edition

8. Three Muskateers – Alexandre Dumas

French readers who are at an intermediate level may want to tackle the 3 Muskateers. With a bilingual edition available, readers will enjoy this mainstay of classic French literature.

A historical novel written by famed novelist Alexandre Dumas, the 3 muskateers 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. He instead gets into a duel with the 3 muskateers (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.

Buy Now – Bilingual Edition

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So have you picked your favorite to tackle? Now, I should mention a caveat. French literature tends to use a past tense called the passé simple, that is not used in spoken French. Most of the classics and adult books are written in this style, so beginner readers will have to get used to it and learn to plough through.

My advice would be to not look up every word you stumble over. Concentrate on the important words and only look up the ones that really leave you clueless.

Rather than vocabulary, it is easier to read to get the gist of the book, to keep reading a pleasure. Getting the bilingual version help keep the distractions to a minimum.

If you enjoyed that article, here are more resources you can use to learn French.

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8 Easy French books for beginners

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