Not the Babar You Remember

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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.

-Bridget Crawford


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0 Responses to Not the Babar You Remember

  1. historiann says:

    You think Babar was subversive? Check out “The Country Bunny and the Golden Shoes,” by Du Bose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack. It’s all about how a little common brown girl bunny wants to become one of the Easter Bunnies, who are all tall, handsome, white jack-rabbits, and how everyone laughs at her for thinking that she could become something special. She shows them–even after giving birth to twenty-one little brown bunnies herself.

    I always liked that story–it wasn’t until I was an adult, and could appreciate the commentary about race, class, gender, and motherhood that I understood perhaps why it was so appealing to me.

  2. Eric says:

    Nice piece about this in the NY Times today. I’ve never seen my 3-1/2 year-old so excited over the newspaper!