I seem to be rereading quite a few books that I read at school at the moment, and so I thought I’d talk about a book that I actually read quite a while ago, back in April, but forgot to write about. I first read Le Petit Nicolas, written by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempe when I was living in France, in 7eme, the equivalent to Year 5 in Australia. I, understandably, struggled reading French books at that point, often not really completely understanding the texts set for class by my teachers. We had to read this dreadful book called Poil de Carrotte, or Carrot Top by Jules Renard, which I did not understand at all – not that I couldn’t read the words, but the whole context of the book whooshed over my head. So when we had the chance to pick a book from the class library to read, and I stumbled across Le Petit Nicolas, I couldn’t have been happier with the book I had happened to chose.
Nicolas is not complicated, or full of hidden themes and meaning – Nicolas is quite simply a cheeky, naughty little boy who doesn’t always realise how naughty he is being. He is enthusiastic, and cheerful, and motivated by food, fun and staying out of trouble at school. Some of his little adventures are laugh out loud funny, and I grew to love his little gang of friends, who were mischievous in the tamest of ways, and fought and bickered but always stayed friends in the end.
I read quite a few books in the Nicolas series, and I can say that that series, as well as the series of books by the Contesse de Segur (which were translated and published in Australia in 2011) pushed me through my fear of reading in French, so by the time I got to middle school the next year, I was a lot more confident in reading Guy de Maupassant’s short stories and understanding Jean de la Fontaine’s poems. I have always been a confident reader in English, but learning to read in a different language made me understand how a reluctant reader might feel being forced to read at school, and being scared to read.
I know a lot of ‘reluctant reader’ books are geared towards boys, and are action packed, with adventure and gadgets and monsters – but I doubt reading that sort of book in French would have helped me. I needed the sweet naivety and mischief of Nicolas and Sophie (from the Contesse de Segur stories) to help me through. And so reading Nicolas in English for the first time in April was an interesting experience. I actually wished that I reread it in French, just to hear the characters voices in the same way I read them the first time. I have the Contesse de Segur books in French and in English, and when I decide to reread Sophie’s Misfortunes as part of the 1001 Children’s Book list, I might read Les Malheurs de Sophie instead. It will be a struggle, as I haven’t read a book in French in several years, but it might be a nice challenge, and mimic the challenge it was to read the book the first time around.