HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Story of Babar The Little Elephant
Author and Illustrator: Jean de Brunhoff
Publisher: Mammoth, republished in 1995
ISBN-13: 978-0394805757 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0394805755 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0749720292 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0749720298 (Paperback)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 3 and up
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Brunhoff, Jean de. The Story of Babar The Little Elephant (originally published in 1931 as Histoire de Babar; republished in 1933 in English by Random House Books for Young Readers). Babar is a young elephant who, when his mother is shot and killed by a hunter, runs away from the jungle, visits an unspecified big city where he is befriended by an old lady who buys him clothes and enrolls him in school, and, when found by his cousins Celeste and Arthur, returns to bring the benefits of civilization to his fellow elephants. Then, after the King of the Elephants, who has eaten a poisonous mushroom, dies, the council of elephants asks Babar to become the new King of the elephant kingdom. He marries his cousin Celeste, and they set off in a balloon for their honeymoon trip around the world. One reviewer said, “The Story of Babar is essentially the tale of a country boy who comes to the city and, while there, comes of age. In the end, he returns home to share his knowledge and experiences with family and friends.”
Politically correct leftists (you know, the “Hey, ho, hey, ho, Western Civ has got to go!” crowd) hate this book. They view it as nothing but unabashed imperialism or colonialist propaganda and think that is disturbing and offensive especially to say that elephants need clothes! Also, many feel that it is too frightening for children because the mother is killed and the old king dies of mushroom poisoning. First, this is a children’s fantasy where the elephants are anthropomorphized. No one thinks it strange that Peter Rabbit wears a coat and even talks, but heaven forbid that Babar wear clothes! That smacks too much of Western imperialization. Secondly, the deaths are no more graphic than that of Bambi’s mother. All Brunhoff says is, “Babar is riding happily on his mother’s back, when a wicked hunter, hiding behind some bushes, shoots at them. The hunter has killed Babar’s mother!” And there is no gory scene of blood all over the place and Babar’s mother on her back with her legs up in the air. Others object that Babar marries his cousin, but people have been legally marrying their cousins for years. If someone doesn’t like the book, fine, but don’t criticize it as bad literature. It is a cute, classic story.
Jean de Brunhoff went on to write six more Babar stories before his death in 1937 from tuberculosis, including The Travels of Babar, our favorite which tells of his and Celeste’s honeymoon trip; Babar and His Children; Babar the King; and Babar and Zephir. Many, or perhaps all, of them have been published together in the Babar Collection. After his death, his son Laurent carried on the series with some 31 additional books including stories like Babar and His Cousin Arthur; Meet Babar and His Family; Babar and Father Christmas; Babar’s Museum of Art; Babar Comes to America; Babar’s Little Girl; and Babar and the Ghost; and educational books for little children such as Babar’s Book of Color; Babar’s Yoga for Elephants; Babar’s Counting Book; and Babar’s USA. We read many of these when our boys were small and enjoyed them.