Babar and Celeste

I have freely stolen from Wikipedia to introduce readers to Babar (my apologies to those readers who have small children and are well acquainted with Babar … and if not, why not?).

Babar the Elephant is a fictional character who first appeared in 1931 in the French children’s book Histoire de Babar by Jean de Brunhoff.

The book is based on a tale that Brunhoff’s wife, Cecile, had invented for their children. It tells of a young elephant Babar whose mother is killed by a hunter. Babar escapes, and in the process leaves the jungle, visits a big city, and returns to bring the benefits of civilization to his fellow elephants. Just as he returns to his community of elephants, their king dies from eating a bad mushroom. Because of his travels and civilization, Babar is appointed king of the elephant kingdom. He marries his cousin, and they subsequently have children and teach them valuable lessons.


Babar was introduced to the English speaking world by A. A. Milne in 1933 so it was well established in the library of kiddie-lit when I came along a few years later. Since the original six books, Babar has become it’s  own industry around the world with additional books, movies, and even a television series.

For me, though, it was the original Babar with the somewhat scary illustrations. You may notice that the more contemporary illustrations of Babar and his world are soft and round and lacking the edge of the original illustrations: what we called Disneyfied back in art school.

Author Maurice Sendak described the innovations of Jean de Brunhoff:

Like an extravagant piece of poetry, the interplay between few words and many pictures, commonly called the picture book, is a difficult, exquisite, and most easily collapsible form that few have mastered….Jean de Brunhoff was a master of this form. Between 1931 and 1937 he completed a body of work that forever changed the face of the illustrated book.

Oh yes. Celeste is Mrs. Babar and they live happily in Celesteville with the kids, many friends, and the little Old Lady, of course.

There is some controversy over Babar suggesting that the books appear to promote and support colonialism They probably do, but consider these two points: First, as a two or three year old, concern about the evils of colonialism do not rank as high as zwieback; and second, it’s pretty easy to find fault with just about any children’s book or children’s story that preceded the age of political correctness. How about that wicked man in the yellow hat who forces a little monkey to live in the big city instead of up a tree in the jungle, happy in its natural habitat?

Here is the list of Babar books from Wikipedia (not a complete listing):


Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar books, and the titles of the English translations, were:

  • Histoire de Babar (1931) — The Story of Babar
  • Le Voyage de Babar (1932) — The Travels of Babar, or Babar’s Travels
  • Le Roi Babar (1933) — Babar the King
  • L’ABC de Babar (1934) — A.B.C. of Babar
  • Les vacances de Zéphir (1936) — Zephir’s Holidays, Zephir’s Vacation, or Babar and Zephir
  • Babar en famille (1938) — Babar and His Children, or Babar at Home
  • Babar et le père Noël (1941) — Babar and Father Christmas

Laurent de Brunhoff’s books (selected list):

  • Babar et ce coquin d’Arthur (1948) — Babar’s Cousin: That Rascal Arthur
  • Pique-nique chez Babar (1949) — Babar’s Picnic
  • Babar dans l’Île aux oiseaux (1952) — Babar’s Visit to Bird Island
  • Babar au cirque (1952) — Babar and the Circus
  • La fête à Celesteville (1954) — Babar’s Fair
  • Babar et le professeur Grifaton (1956) — Babar and the Professor
  • Le château de Babar (1961) — Babar’s Castle
  • Je parle anglais avec Babar (1963) — Babar’s English Lessons (published as French Lessons in English)
  • Babar Comes to America (1965)
  • Je parle allemand avec Babar (1966) — Babar’s German Lessons
  • Je parle espagnol avec Babar (1966) — Babar’s Spanish Lessons
  • Babar Loses His Crown (1967)
  • Babar Visits another Planet (1972)
  • Babar and the Wully-Wully (1975)
  • Babar Learns to Cook (1978)
  • Babar the Magician (1980)
  • Babar’s Little Library (1980)
  • Babar and the Ghost (1981)
  • Babar’s Anniversary Album (1982)
  • Babar’s ABC (1983)
  • Babar’s Book of Color (1984)
  • Babar’s Counting Book (1986)
  • Babar’s Little Girl (1987)
  • Babar’s Little Circus Star (1988)
  • Babar’s Busy Year (1989)
  • Babar’s Rescue (1993)
  • Le Musée de Babar (2002) — Babar’s Museum
  • Babar Goes to School (2003)
  • Babar’s Museum of Art (2003)
  • Babar’s Book of Color (2004)
  • Babar’s Busy Year (2005)
  • Babar’s World Tour (2005)
  • Babar’s Yoga for Elephants (2006)
  • Babar’s USA (2008)
  • Babar’s Celesteville Games (2011)
  • Babar on Paradise Island (2014)

Other English-language titles about Babar include the following:

  • Babar Comes to America. New York: Random House, 1965.
  • Babar Learns to Cook. New York: Random House, 1967.
  • Babar Loses His Crown. New York: Random House, 1967.
  • Babar’s Games. New York: Random House, 1968.
  • Babar’s Fair. New York: Random House, 1969.
  • Babar Goes Skiing. New York: Random House, 1969.
  • Babar’s Moon Trip. New York: Random House, 1969.
  • Babar’s Trunk. New York: Random House, 1969.
  • Babar’s Birthday Surprise. New York: Random House, 1970
  • Babar’s Other Trunk. New York: Random House, 1971.
  • Babar Visits Another Planet. New York: Random House, 1972.
  • Meet Babar and His Family. New York: Random House, 1973.
  • Babar’s Bookmobile. New York: Random House, 1974.
  • Babar and the Wully-Wully. New York: Random House, 1975.
  • Babar Saves the Day. New York: Random House, 1976.
  • Babar’s Mystery. New York: Random House, 1978.
  • Babar’s Little Library. New York: Random House, 1980
  • Babar the Magician. New York: Random House, 1980.
  • Babar’s Anniversary Album. New York: Random House, 1981.
  • Babar’s A.B.C. New York: Random House, 1983.
  • Babar’s Book of Color. New York: Random House, 2009
  • Babar and the Ghost. Easy to Read Edition. New York: Random House, 1986.
  • Babar’s Counting Book. New York: Random House, 1986.
  • “Christmas with Babar & Baby Isabelle.” Woman’s Day, 22 December 1987.
  • Babar’s Little Circus Star. New York: Random House, 1988.
  • Babar’s Busy Year. New York: Random House, 1989.
  • Isabelle’s New Friend. New York: Random House, 1990.
  • Babar and the Succotash Bird. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2000.

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