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The best books to read to children and improve your own French

From the classics to the lesser-known titles, we look at the children’s books that can help improve your French language skills

Reading with a child can provide an opportunity to work on your language skills Pic: Evgeny Atamanenko / Shutterstock

Reading is a very useful way of improving your language skills, but this does not mean you have to limit yourself to reading novels designed for adults. 

One of the best ways to learn can be by using books aimed at younger readers. This helps you pick up basic sentence structures. 

It also means that if you have children in your life who are also learning French, you can read together and both get something out of it. 

Unsurprisingly, the options are endless so here we have narrowed down the list to books learners we know have found particularly useful! 

The Harry Potter series 

If you have already read the Harry Potter series in English, reading it in French is a great way to improve your language skills because you will already have a good understanding of the storyline. 

The translation process of Harry Potter is also very interesting because books are quite quintessentially British in their discussions of food, school systems and class. 

When reading the translations, you can identify choices the translator has made in his word choice or omission of certain cultural references. 

Read also: Your tips on how best to improve French language skills

For example, early on in the first book, Dumbledore pulls a lemon sherbet from his pocket - a sweet that does not exist in France. This is translated as an “esquimau au citron”, which is more reminiscent of an ice lolly. It changes the tone of the passage - something that in the English version grounds Dumbledore in the real world becomes an act of magic in the French text due to the frozen nature of the “esquimau”. 

Aspects like this make the series a good option for adult and child learners; as an adult you can appreciate the nuances of the translation process and children can simply enjoy the captivating stories. 

Picture book translations 

Lots of famous British classic storybooks have been translated: well-known examples include La chasse à l’ours (We are going on a bear hunt) by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury and Le Gruffalo (The Gruffalo) by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. 

These again are good options for both adult and children learners because you can use the English version to support your learning and help to identify new words. 

It can also be comforting for younger children to read a book they recognise to help put them at ease with the new language. 

French language storybooks 

Unsurprisingly, the options here are endless so we have compiled a list of books that have been recommended by the French Institut in Scotland and that have gone down particularly well with primary-aged children learning French as a second language.

Wolves seem to be a popular principal character in French storytelling! 

  1. Va-t'en, grand monstre vert ! by Ed Emberley 

  2. Le loup qui voulait faire le tour du monde by Orianne Lallemand and Éléonore Thuillier

  3. Loup, Loup, y es-tu ? by Mario Ramos

  4. Le jeune loup qui n’avait pas de nom by Jean-Claude Mourlevat and Jean-Luc Bénazet

  5. De quelle couleur sont les bisous ? by Rocio Bonilla

  6. Panique à Paris by Fanny Joly and Laurent Audouin 

  7. C’est à moi, ça ! by Michel Van Zeveren

  8. Ana, Ana, Une virée à la mer by Dominique Roques and Alexis Dormal

Read also: Books to help improve your French

Le Petit Prince

A bona fide classic, a must-read!

Translations of this book exist all over the world, but reading it in French is the perfect option for all learners.

Le Petit Prince is the favourite book of many French children and adults alike. 

Reading it as an adult is a very different experience from doing it as a child. It becomes far more philosophical. 

For many, it is a book they can return to over and over, gaining something new from each read. 

Les Trois Mousquetaires series 

Le Trilogie de Mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas is another famous series that has influenced films and TV series. 

Both younger and older readers will enjoy these books, and once you have read them you can continue your learning by watching the television series and films in French. 

TinTin and Asterix 

Sometimes you just cannot beat the classics, and this is the case with the TinTin and Asterix series. 

The bande-dessinée (comic book) style of these stories is something different for younger readers who are growing up in an era where comics are less dominant, while for older readers it is a sweet reminder of their youth. 

Again, these are both huge franchises so once you have delved into the books, you can watch the cartoons, films and even visit the theme park in the case of Asterix!

Connexion reader suggestions

Connexion reader JK wrote in to recommend Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five translations, Les Club des Cinq published by La Bibliothèque Verte.

JK also suggested the French modern classic children's series, Le Petit Nicolas by Sempe and Goscinny, which is about a mischievous boy called Nicolas. Goscinny is well-known for his authorship of the famous Asterix cartoon books, so it is no wonder these books are popular!

JK said that “After reading about ten of these books, with the aid of Google Translate/Deepl etc as necessary, I began to feel more confident and decided to look towards modern French novels for adults.”

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