Day 3 of our advent list includes a story from 1940 by Jean de Brunhoff, Babar and Father Christmas. As with all Babar stories, this one is a little odd, but still quite entertaining.
In this tale, Zephir the monkey discovers and tells Babar’s children about Father Christmas who visits Man’s country and brings toys to little boys and girls. The children are excited at the possibility and write to ask Father Christmas to visit Elephant country. When the lack of response discourages them, Babar learns of it and decides to search for Father Christmas himself and extend a personal invitation to him.
The hunt for Father Christmas is quite exciting and ends with a new friendship, a tour of Father Christmas’s workshop, a vacation for Father Christmas, and a solution for the lack of Father Christmas in Elephant Country.
When approaching stories like Babar, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Given their 30s and 40s time period, and their French origin; they can be rather difficult to appreciate. Some critics deem Babar to be morally and politically offensive unfortunately, so it is best to read them with a discerning eye and make your own decisions about discussions with your little ones.
However, as a child, I loved Babar! The fantasy-land of Elephant country is quite fun; and the apparent political statements of colonialism were completely lost on me. Babar and Father Christmas is a long read, as are most original Babar stories, so be prepared. The text occasionally feels choppy, but I would be very interested to read the original French someday as I assume it may just be a translation issue. Nonetheless, I still find the story to be charming and extremely unique. I personally don’t know the difference between Father Christmas and Santa Claus, but FC seems like a nice guy with some fun little dwarves. And his underground workshop is stupendous! Jean de Brunhoff includes lots of details in his drawings as well as text and the polite society of Babar’s kingdom is easy to fall in love with.
Jean de Brunhoff is the original creator of Babar, but he died when his son was 12. The son, Laurent, decided to continue the series when he was in his 20s. Such a fun history. Stories of children carrying on the parent’s art are so fascinating. The New Yorker ran an intriguing article about the Babar series in 2008. You can also read an interview with Laurent and his wife in this New York Times article (and see their beautiful apartment!). And one more short interview with him from Children’s Literature. I hope you give Babar a try and take a fun trip with him in search of Father Christmas.
Follow along our book adventure at 25 Days of Christmas Books.