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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

Classist and Trippy Children's Classic

The Story of Babar - Jean de Brunhoff, Merle S. Haas

My kids got this book as a hand-me-down from someone (the inscription on the cover is "To Ben, Christmas 1974," but we don't have any Ben's in the immediate family), and lately my three-year-old has been requesting it almost every night. Frankly, as with many French things, I don't see the appeal.


The story is just trippy and bizarre. Babar is born in a forest and cavorts with cousins until one day a hunter kills his mama. It's very sad for about half a sentence, and then Babar runs off to a city, where he is enchanted by fancy cars and sophisticated gentlemen, and decides he needs some clothes. He finds a sugar mama (named only "Old Lady"), who gives him money and anything else he wants, and he lives in Gatsbyesque opulence until one day his cousins Arthur and Celeste show up. Arthur and Celeste are still children, and Babar buys them clothes (children's playclothes, not suits like his own wardrobe) and entertains them by buying them pastries until their mothers show up to bring them home. At that point, Babar realizes he misses the forest and decides to go with them (taking Old Lady's car when he goes).


While Babar is on his way back to the forest, the Elephant King eats a bad mushroom and dies (no, I am not making this up), so the elephants need a new king. When Babar arrives, the Elephant Elders say, "Oooh, look, he's got the fanciest clothes and a snazzy car; let's make him our king." Babar agrees to take the job, but announces that he and Celeste (who, let's not forget, is a) a child, and b) Babar's cousin) are now engaged. They send a camel-errand boy back to the city to buy more fancy clothes for the wedding/coronation, and then they have a big party. The End.


I think my son must like the illustrations, but I'm put off by the rampant consumerism (your mama's dead? Go shopping!) and entitlement (Old Lady gives Babar anything he wants, and then the elephants make him King, just because). This book is also my son's first introduction to the concept of guns (my wife read it to him without previewing it first), as a hunter shoots Babar's mother just a few pages into the story, and the gun is drawn with flames coming out of the barrel. To my chagrin, our son is full of questions about the gun--what it is, what it does, what the fire is, why--but doesn't seem to grasp that Babar's MAMA IS DEAD.