New York’s Morgan Library is currently hosting “Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors,” a show of “manuscript drafts, sketches, and watercolors, for the first book by each of Babar’s two authors, father and son Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff.” The show is getting a fair amount of high-brow attention, including this New Yorker article by Adam Gopnick.
Babar was not among my favorite childhood characters. I never understood the Old Lady, and I was upset that Babar’s mother was killed in the first few pages of the first book. But there was enough that was interesting about elephants wearing clothes and crowns to keep my attention as a 5 year-old, — even if the colonialism angle escaped me until, well, a good 15 years later.
For those who haven’t spent any time with Babar lately, the books are worth making a detour through the children’s section of the local bookstore. Babar’s Little Girl, to name just one by Laurent de Brunhoff, has an interesting story-line with a visit by the elephants to their yoga-practicing, hang-gliding gay non-elephant friends.
Children’s literature has always been subversive. I just had to grow up to realize it.