Why I Built This Kit
All my life I have loved the French language, French culture, and France itself. I couldn’t tell you what triggered it, but it is a love that has lasted through the years. As a college student, it was an easy decision to major in French, and I was fortunate to study abroad in France, first in Aix-en-Provence and then in Paris. In both situations I lived with families who welcomed me into their homes and lives, who became extended family to me. I don’t often have occasion to use my French anymore, but I am brushing up on my French history. My first picture book, which is due to come out in November of 2015 from Getty Publications, takes place in Paris during the reign of Louis XIV!
Spark Their Interest
- Say cheese! There are about 400 different types of French cheese and these are divided into 8 cheese families. When the chance presents itself, bring home a type of French cheese that is new to you for your family to try.
- France is the largest country in western Europe, but it is smaller than the state of Texas.
- French is the second most studied language in the world after English. Learn some French words and phrases today!
- More people visit France than any other country in the world—over 75 million visitors arrive each year! Where would you go if you could travel to France next week?
- Most schools in France have about a two-hour lunch break, and close Wednesday and Sunday with a half-day on Saturday. What does your child think about this schedule? If they could plan their school schedule, what would it look like?
- Until 1993, French parents had to choose names for their children from an official list! If you had to choose from a list of names, what names would you hope to find on it?
- Maps – Check out these maps of France and practice those map reading and geography skills: one in French and one in English.
- A Lion in Paris by Beatrice AlemagnaA story inspired by the statue of a lion in the Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris built in the late 19th century, this imaginative tale will captivate young readers as they explore Paris alongside the lion. Also available in the original French edition as Un lion à Paris.
- E is for Eiffel Tower: A France Alphabet by Helen L. Wilbur, illus. by Yan NascimbeneAn alphabet that wanders through many regions of France. Stick to the simple text at the core of the story for younger children. The notes and information in the sidebars make this a book to grow with, though!
- Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride by Marjorie PricemanCombining fact and fancy, Priceman tells the story of the successful 1783 liftoff of a hot-air balloon, invented by the Montgolfier brothers, a flight made even more special because of its passengers: a duck, a sheep, and a rooster. Priceman sets the scene in several picture-text spreads, then segues into a nearly wordless visual narrative of the animals' comedic encounters with a clothesline, a boy with bow and arrow, a flock of birds, and more, capturing everything in buoyant artwork full of swirls and clever details (the balloon moves past animal-shaped clouds). The history, highlighted in an illustrated time line at the end of the book, takes a backseat to the humorous antics of the animals. As for the truth? Priceman claims she "heard this part of the story from a duck, who heard it from a sheep, who heard it from a rooster a long, long time ago." (Booklist)
- Stone Soup by Marcia BrownThree soldiers came marching down the road towards a French village. The peasants seeing them coming, suddenly became very busy, for soldiers are often hungry. So all the food was hidden under mattresses or in barns. There followed a battle of wits, with the soldiers equal to the occasion. Stone soup? Why, of course, they could make a wonderful soup of stones...but, of course, one must add a carrot or two...some meat...so it went. Marcia Brown has made of this old tale a very gay book, a carnival of activity, of dancing and laughter. So much goes on in the pictures that children who have once heard the story will turn to them again and again, retelling the story for themselves. (Publisher) Check out the French edition, too.
- Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans"In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines" lives plucky Madeline with eleven other girls under the care of the kind Miss Clavel. Madeline wakes up in the night with appendicitis and is rushed off to the hospital. The other girls visit Madeline after the operation, and see her gifts, her candy, and above all, her scar. That night they all cry, "Boohoo, we want to have our appendix out too!" Bemelman's loose drawings and paintings depict Paris and its famous buildings. (Barnes & Nobel/Zoobean) French edition also available.
- Minette’s Feast by Susanna Reich, illus. by Amy BatesA hilarious true story about the beloved chef's first cat, a Parisian who lapped up Child's leftovers but preferred mice. For cat-lovers, foodies, Julia Child fans, and everyone who loves a tasty picture book. (Publisher)
- Adèle & Simon by Barbara McClintockWhen Adele meets her younger brother after school, she cautions him not to lose anything on the way home. The children take a leisurely route, visiting friends, a street market, a park, and two museums. Predictably, Simon leaves an item (his drawing, hat, knapsack, glove) behind at each location. Set in Paris during the early 20th century, this simple story is the basis for some remarkable illustrations. (School Library Journal)
- Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCullyMirette lives in a boarding house surrounded by actors, dancers, jugglers and mimes. Her life is filled with exciting stories and fascinating people. None as magical as the stranger Mirette discovers crossing the courtyard on air--a tightrope walker. Mirette becomes the stranger's pupil and learns to walk the wire. Features brilliant watercolor and gouache paintings, reminiscent of the French Impressionists. (Barnes & Noble)
- Crêpes by Suzette by Monica WellingtonFrancophiles will delight in Wellington's Paris, shown as a beautiful city filled with historic buildings, gardens, and happy people eating Suzette's crêpes as she sells them from her pushcart in parks and squares and on wide boulevards. Readers will enjoy this original and appealing concept book that mixes art appreciation with a travelogue. (School Library Journal)
Art & Artists:
- The Louvre illus. by Tony Ross, created by Claude Delafosse and Gallimard JeunesseA great little book to explore one of the most famous museums in the world and some of its history and masterpieces!
- A Blue Butterfly by Bijou Le TordIn a garden of spectacular beauty in Giverny, France, Claude Monet painted flowers. Dazzled by the light, he painted with rich colors of vermilion, emerald, and violet. His poppies, tulips, irises, and waterlilies have awed the world. In her radiant watercolors, Bijou Le Tord uses Monet's own palette of only eight colors. Her magnificent paintings and poetic words celebrate the extraordinary vision of the beloved impressionist painter, Claude Monet. (Publisher)
- Bijou, Bonbon and Beau: The Kittens Who Danced for DegasNewborn kittens Bijou, Bonbon and Beau make themselves at home on a Paris stage to the delight of the dancers as well as the artist who quietly sketches them. This adorable picture book will appeal to cat lovers, art enthusiasts and ballerinas big and small. (Publisher)
- Journey on a Cloud: A Children’s Book Inspired by Marc ChagallOne of artist Marc Chagall's most enduring paintings is the basis for this beautifully crafted children's book that tells an enchanting story. (Publisher)
Bilingual Books & Dictionaries
- French-English Picture Dictionary by Catherine Bruzzone and Louise MillarA great introduction and first dictionary for learning French as a second language.
- Am I Small? Je suis petite, moi? by Philippe Winterberg, illus. by Nadja Wichmann, trans. by Laurence WuilleminTamia wants to figure out if she is small or not. In a simple question-and-answer format, she asks various creatures about her size. A big creature with yellow fur says: “Small? You? You are smaller than small! You are teeny-weeny!” Tamia puts her question to others, including a crescent moon, who answers, “Tiny? You? You are microscopic!" About halfway through the story, she begins to ask a different question: “Am I big?” Scaling down from the large creatures she approached at first, Tamia turns to a turtle, a flower, a ladybug and a small green worm. The worm, sticking out of an apple, tells Tamia, “You are gigantic!” In a magnificent realization, Tamia sees that size is relative. “I’ve got it!” Tamia says, “I’m everything, and if I’m everything, I’m also: just right!” (Kirkus Reviews)
- Quentin Blake’s Ten Frogs Dix Grenouilles: A Book About Counting in English and French by Quentin BlakeLearn numbers and animals in English and French with this book.
- In Here, Out There! Ça rentre, ça sort! by Philipp Winterberg, illus. by Lena Hesse, trans. by Marie-Claire Piquernal and Sandra Hamer"In here, out there!" - When the neighbor complains, Ruby teases and the kindergarten teacher keeps nagging, Joseph couldn't care less. Luckily, you have two ears: one for in and one for out. There is only one person in the world that Joseph listens to… (Publisher)
- Hiéronyme de Carmot et ses drôles d’animaux/Hieronymus Betts and his Unusual Pets by M.P. RobertsonHieronymus Betts lives with some very unusual pets. All are dreadfully disgusting, but Hieronymus knows of something slimier than the Slugapotamus, more gruesome than the grizzly hare, and greedier than the Saber-Toothed Rhino Toad . . . and it’s living right in his house! What on Earth could it be? This witty dual-language picture book, with its amazing array of oddly named fantasy creatures, makes learning French or English fun for young children. (Publisher)
Translations of your favorites—check to see if a French edition exists of some of your favorite books, such as Le retour des rats (The Rats Came Back) by Ross Seidel, illus. by Rudolf Kurz or La chenille qui fait des trous (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) by Eric Carle.
*A note about apps – many apps have multiple language options that often include French. So check out apps you already own or are interested in beyond this list to see whether you can listen to a favorite story in French!
- Van Gogh and the Sunflowers"Where Camille lived, the sunflowers grew so high they looked like real suns - a whole field of burning yellow suns." Young Camille befriends a strange visitor to his small town, and one day he brings this man a gift of bright, beautiful sunflowers. The man is the artist Vincent van Gogh, and the sunflowers quickly become the subject of a magnificent painting. Based on actual events, this simple and evocative story (with text & illustrations by Laurence Anholt) has a powerful message of tolerance and compassion for those who appear odd or unusual, and who march to a different drummer. Anholt's gentle and empathetic text is complemented by his lovely and expressive watercolor illustrations, and includes reproduction of some of van Gogh's most famous paintings. (iTunes) An interactive story app adaptation of a children’s book, complete with games, painting, and information about 10 of Van Gogh’s paintings.
- French Words for Kids (Montessori)An app that allows you to choose the types of words you’d like to learn, including by sound or theme. It sounds out the word and sounds of each letter. It teaches hundreds of words in a fun and engaging way!
- Pierre et le loupThis French interactive story app tells the Peter and the Wolf tale accompanied by Prokofiev’s famous Peter and the Wolf piece. A fabulous app for French speakers, learners, and music-lovers!
Watch, Listen, Learn
- The Red Balloon/Le ballon rougeThis classic short French film is about a little boy who makes friends with a red balloon that follows him all over Paris.
- Les produits laitiers: jeunesse & jeuxThis French site all about dairy has some great kids games like dressing up a cow in different professions, counting out money to pay for different dairy products, and sorting cows into a barn. It says the games are for children ages 5-7, but younger kids will definitely have fun, too!
- 5 Rue SesameYour child will love the French version of Sesame Street, with some familiar and some new furry friends!
- SightseeingTour some of France’s main attractions using this interactive map from Time Kids. Watch travel videos such as this one that tours through multiple areas of France. Then learn about the typical day of a French girl here.
- MusicMusic is a wonderful way to learn about language and culture. Check out Mama Lisa’s World to see a large selection of French songs, read their lyrics as well as their English translations, and, best of all, hear them sung!
Try this idea for learning colors in French and English using paint chips and clothespins! Have your child match the clothespin to the paint chips.
Ask your child to be your travel agent and plan a trip to France for you. Visit your local library and encourage your child to use maps, websites, and books to plot out where you will go, how you will get from place to place, what sites you will see, where you will stay, what you should eat, etc. Perhaps they could include some basic French to help you on your trip!
Le Tour de France, a bicycle race, is one of the most famous sporting events in the world. Spend some time learning about the race, which covers 3,200 kilometers or 2,000 miles in France over 21 days. Then take your own bike ride! Maybe make it a race—who will get to wear the yellow shirt of the leader?!
Provence, a region in southern France, is known for its lavender fields that bloom in the summer. Help your child with a simple sewing project by making a lavender sachet. If sewing doesn’t appeal to you or them, try a no-sew version by using fabric glue to seal the edges of your two pieces of fabric together. Place the lavender sachets in drawers or underneath pillows to bring the sweet fragrance into your home.
Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro…France was home to some of the most famous impressionist painters. Check out a book of impressionist paintings or better yet visit an art museum that has an impressionist exhibit with your child. Then try painting your own impressionist style pieces of artwork at home! Your child might also enjoy making their own paint, just like impressionist painters had to do.
Song and Dance
There are many wonderful children’s songs in French. Some, like Frère Jacques, your child might know in English or French already. Another popular tune is Sur le pont d’Avignon. Have fun learning the song and melody, and creating your own dance to go along!
Before all else, France might be best known for its food (and wine!). Get cooking with your kiddo and try making some French recipes—how about a tomato galette or chocolate pot de crèmes? Or one of my favorites—crêpes with sautéed bananas and chocolate (or Nutella)!
Build a Tower
The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair and was originally intended to be temporary. It was saved because it proved useful for radio communications! Encourage your little one to build their own tower or structure using materials around your house: tin cans, cereal boxes, cardboard boxes, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, oatmeal canisters, etc. Ask them to make up a story about the tower’s use or purpose!
About Alexandra H.
Greetings from central Maine! Things you should know about me: I am the mother of an inquisitive, active toddler who keeps me on my toes. I work in a small, independent children’s bookstore where I get to help kids, teens, and their grown-ups find books that will keep them up reading all night long. Just kidding about that last part, they go to sleep eventually, I swear. Well, I don’t swear, but I assume. But matching people and books? My favorite way to play matchmaker! Before moving to Maine I worked as a historical researcher for American Girl, where I learned about everything from steamboats to wars to parrots. I am also a children’s book author myself, with my first picture book due to come out in 2015! When I’m not knee-deep in books or blocks or a sandbox, I bake a lot, avoid cleaning at all costs, and try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. For the record, I would love to be a neat and orderly person, it just doesn’t seem to be my style. I’m working on it.