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Thank God for the French speakers of the world. Were it not for them, Babar might not have ever been created and we would have to live in a wretched Babar-less world. As it is, however, we are blessed to have this delightful story at our fingertips at any time. The story of Babar was originally published in 1933, and it has stood the test of time with dignity and flair.
The story of Babar is simple. After his mother is shot by a cruel hunter, the little elephant runs away to a metropolitan city. Once there, he is taken under the wing of a kindly older lady. Babar then proceeds to become the greatest dandy of children's literature today. Here is the section I love the most:
"Babar then buys himself: A shirt with a collar and tie, a suit of a becoming shade of green, then a handsome derby hat, and also shoes with spats".
Contrary to popular thought, an elephant in spats is the most dignified thing in the world. With these purchases Babar has transformed himself from rural rube to the original metrosexual. He becomes cultured, learning the rudimentary aspects of human civilization while regaling party guests with his tales of the forest (note his pin-striped pants and casual dinner jacket). Eventually Babar is lured back to his jungle home and is swiftly crowned King of the elephants.
The 1933 setting in which Babar acclimatizes himself has grown more charming over the years. And most remarkably? Most older picture books contain at least one racial stereotype somewhere in the midst of a picture. Not so our darling "Babar". I feel safe in saying that you might search through any future adventure of the winsome elephant and not stumble across a single picture or piece of writing that causes you a twenty-first century gasp of disgust. This isn't to say that there aren't some rather peculiar dated aspects to the book. I read this book as a child and had a vivid visceral memory return to me when I saw the sickly state of the former King of the elephants who passed away after eating a bad mushroom. That is a grotesquerie unknown to the kiddies today. But all in all, "Babar" is without fault. Certainly he's the essence of capitalism. One might believe the elephants crown him king as much for his pretty red convertible as for his brains. But Babar is still a unique and moving tale that will continue to entertain the masses of children for years and years to come.
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on June 11, 2000
Ah, to be King of the Elephants. Not only do you get to live in the palace in Celesteville, but you also get to rewrite your life story. In the original books, Babar was an ordinary elephant who was orphaned at a young age and went to seek his fortune in the city before he returned and was chosen to be king. In the newer video series that my kids brought home from the library the other day, Babar recounts his adventures as a young prince growing up in the palace. And they say elephants never forget!
The original story is fairly simple. After a hunter kills his mother, Babar runs away until he comes to a city. As luck would have it, one of the first people he meets is a lady who loves to spend money on young elephants. Soon Babar has a dashing new wardrobe, a private tutor, and elegant friends. Life would be wonderful if he weren't so homesick. When his two cousins show up, Babar decides to go back home with them. The elders of the elephant herd decide that Babar, with his civilized ways, should become their king.
There's a school of thought that criticizes the Babar stories as colonialist. But then, most of children's literature written before the 1970s isn't exactly politically correct, is it? Do you tell your children that Babar is a tool of the imperialist establishment, or do you point out what a wonderful culture the elephants built when they banded together to build Celesteville, their capital city? Or do you just read the stories for pure enjoyment?
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on February 17, 1999
My children adored this book from a very early age due to the charm of the text and the pictures. The bon-bons, the kind old lady, the suit of clothes, all create a Parisian fantasy for the big, shy Babar. My kids are now high-schoolers and take French. I like to think it was due to those first images of the Tour Eiffel in this book! Every kid should have this delightful story. My high schoolers still enjoy a trip down memory lane once in awhile with Babar.
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on May 24, 2001
I have fond memories of tracing my fingers over the elephants, enjoined trunk to tail, which walked over the back and front of our huge BABAR book. Thanks to a thoughtful baby gift from my cousin, I continue to do so, with my two sons. We enjoy finding Babar among the other little elephants and weep together over his mother`s cruel demise. We continue to delight at his resilience and enjoy with him his first experiences with people things, and always rejoice at his good fortune and friends.
While there are some problematic elements, ( as when the hunter shoots Babar`s mother or when he marries his cousin,) please keep in mind when this was written and do not let this stop you from sharing this classic with your young ones. Parents and caretakers should seize this great opportunity to talk with them while addressing the issues. There are many positive aspects to the story and the characters, themselves. Delightfully illustrated and charmingly told, the one drawback is that the text, while charming for adults reading aloud, can be an obstacle to early readers.
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on April 27, 2000
Babar first came into my life at when I was 8 and in 3rd grade. I will always remember because that was the happiest grade-school year of my whole life. I was going to private school with a wonderful, sweet teacher and awesome friends. Among all the wonderful things my teacher did with us were some of the neat things in the classroom, some being her supply of story books. Naturally as an animal lover, I grabbed this book during silent reading because I needed some reading material. Tears were streaming down my face as I began to read of Babar's mother's death, and I had tears of joy as some good people take Babar in. I remember being so touched by Babar that whenever someone would mention the word "elephant", I'd get all misty-eyed! It seems funny now but at the time it was quite a dielemma! I was too embarrassed to tell my mom and dad why I was upset so they were concerned! Then my mom went on a trip to California and visited a bunch of garage sales and found some patterns for making little felt Babar and friends dolls. No doubt, Babar had touched my life deep inside. My wonderful childhood was made richer.
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on March 24, 1999
This book is about an elephant's travels after the death of his mother-- his search for independence and his return home. He takes what he has learned on his travels and offers it to the other animals in the forest. The book teaches that you can overcome aversity and make good things happen by working hard. Babar gets beyond the death of his mother by going to the city, studying and by learning how to act in society. I like the book because it is well written and has excellent pictures. It also has a strong message and teaches you a lot about the ways of the world. I also like the way that elephants are used to teach the message.
---- Makki Russo (Age 7)----
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on September 9, 2010
This book holds my fondest memories of my childhood, a childhood that was in some ways harder than Babar's. The idea that from the loss of a parent, I could still grow up and be king was something that that gave me confidence and hope. It made me want to learn and to teach others, and it helped me know that life isn't always easy and pretty, but you have to make the most of what you are dealt. I would recommend this book for every child, but especially for those that have lost something dear to them and could use a little help imagining what is possible.

The low reviews for this book are all absurd, they are great examples of how poorly we treat our kids and how little we think of them as individuals. These people think they need to hide the world from their children rather than let them see and explore it for themselves. If you feel guilty sharing this book with your kids because you can't deal with reality, then you should really reconsider breading. The world will be a better place for your restraint.
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on October 22, 2009
I think the reviewers who claim this book is imperialistic, or a bad story because Babar's mother gets shot are off in their assessment of the basic story. Imperialistic? This book is about an elephant. Perhaps it is not appropriate for a 3-year-old to read about elephants being shot and dying, but my daughter is six-years-old and has no problem understanding the concept of death and that it is a tragic eventuality of life.

I found this book a great entrance into a discussion with children about many topics, including France / Europe, elephant hunting and the efforts over the past 100 years to ban it, poisonous mushrooms, and the fact that the English language is a living, breathing, changing thing and a book written in the 1930s uses language different from a book written today. Yes, Babar's mother gets shot by a "wicked hunter" and the king elephant eats a mushroom and dies, and my daughter found these things very sad. So we talked about hunting elephants and why people hunted elephants and the fact that some mushrooms are poisonous, so we never eat anything growing outside without checking with mom or dad first. Personally, I am glad my daughter knows that hunting elephants was once a very popular sport and today is shunned by the majority of the world.

I think that shielding our children from the past / history simply because we are uncomfortable with some aspects of it does them an injustice. To understand where we're going, we need to take a look at where we came form. I hope that this book continues to be seen as a classic in the years to come.
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on July 31, 2015
I grew up obsessed with Babar, but it's definitely been a while since I've actually read a Babar book. So it was a bit of a surprise to find myself thinking "What is this?" when I read it to my 1 year old. To be honest, I don't have an issue with graphic depictions of mean poachers killing innocent elephants in a kid's book - I think it's easy enough to explain to my son when he's older - but I would say the imperialist and pro-colonial undertones will be a bit harder to explain. There's also the Babar marrying his cousin bit, and the poisonous mushroom scene that will probably need an explanation. I still love Babar, but I think a lot of things need to be also disclosed when reading it to somebody young. Like how a western pro-European viewpoint shouldn't be the basis for being "elected" king.
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on December 17, 2015
As a child growing up I was a big fan of Babar- rereading it to my son today, I was a bit taken aback. Some spoilers ahead:
Babar's mother is shot dead on the first few pages
Babar is elected king because he wears a suit and is civilized (compared tot he other "savage" elephants)
A bit heavy on the British Imperialism, the book feels very dated and has a questionable message for children today
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