Getting to know Paris through books

Maybe your family lives in Paris and you want to give your kids a sense of their city through some beautiful fiction? Or perhaps you are looking for a gift for a child visiting Paris for the first time? MLP brings you a guide to some wonderful picture books about the City of Light aimed at 3 – 6 year olds.

Madame Martine

A real favourite in our home is Madame Martine by Sarah S. Brannen. An elderly lady, rather set in her ways, lives right next to the Eiffel Tower and yet has never been up it, dismissing it as a waste of time, just for tourists. A new friendship with a little dog called Max leads her reluctantly up the tower and she discovers the magic of seeing her city from above. A beautiful and funny tale with a serious message about being open to new experiences and friendships. And possibly a few gentle digs at Parisian closed-mindedness for the grown-ups. We can’t wait to try the follow-up book, Madame Martine Breaks the Rules in which Madame Martine and Max go to the Louvre.

Kiki and Coco

A book we never get tired of is Kiki and Coco in Paris by Nina Gruener, Jess Brown and Stephanie Rausser. A little girl, Kiki, takes her cloth doll to Paris and together they explore the city until the beloved doll is lost (and, don’t worry, found again). The book is based on beautiful photographs of the city. We see Kiki and Coco in the Café de Flore and enjoying the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower. The story behind the book is just as charming. Dollmaker Jess Brown is given equal billing in the credits as the creator of Coco, the doll used in the book.  Kids love the sense of adventure the girl and her doll share and parents love the creative photos.

A Walk in Paris

The very best for Paris residents and visiting children alike is A Walk in Paris. The text is charming as we join a little girl and her grandfather as they explore the city. The illustrations are beautiful and detailed, with plenty to talk about. My daughter knows the city geography well enough to piece their journey together as they walk, but it would work equally well for a newcomer and could even serve as a guide. We like the smaller print details with facts about the city. You could skip those with a younger child. My favourite page involves the Tulieries metro stop simply because my eagle-eyed then six year-old gleefully told me: “Mummy, they’ve made a mistake!”. She knew the Paris metro system well enough to know that Tuileries is on the number 1 Metro line and she saw the artist has drawn a driver on the metro train. “But Mummy, the number 1 metro line has no drivers, it is driver-less! The book has a mistake”. She’s right.  I was sort of delighted.  This kid has the makings of a real Parisienne. Or a future job at RATP transport. Either way, this is a terrific book for both locals and visitors.

A Lion in Paris

For the sheer beauty of the artwork, treat your family to a copy of A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna.  The illustrations are stunning as we follow the lion around Paris, where the residents barely give him a second glance.  Its a great conversation-starter with your kids about being new in a foreign city and city life in general.

Adele and Simon

This was book of the year for the New York Times back in 2006 and we still love it. Adele & Simon
by Barbara McClintock unfolds as Simon’s big sister Adele picks him up from school and he manages to keep losing his possessions on the journey.  The detailed illustrations take the reader on a captivating tour of 1907 Paris.  Its great fun to pour over the replica 1907 Baedeker tourist map together at the back of the book too.

Emma in Paris

This book is a delight. Emma in Paris follows Emma the sparrow (you might know Emma from her New York days in Emma’s Journey) to her new life in Paris.  Its based on a wonderful idea that all around our feet, the streets of Paris host another, parallel city of animal life.  Who knew that the city’s cats like to party in the Chemin Vert metro station?  Or that the animals have their own buskers to entertain them?  It really captures kids’ imaginations and parents will root for Emma to make a go of her new life and overcome her Paris challenges.  The artwork is also terrific, combining Claire Frossard’s drawing and painting with Christophe Urbain’s creative photography.

The Cat Who Walked Across France

This book is a little melancholy but beautiful all the same.  After the death of its owner, a cat takes a tour around France, from Rouen to St Tropez.  The Cat Who Walked Across France by Kate Banks and Georg Hallensleben tells the tale of how the cat, who originally lived in the south of France, is packed off up North with his owner’s possessions after her (sensitively handled) passing.  You can taste and smell France as he traverses the country to make his way back to his old home.  The artwork brings vividly to life both the rural and the city landscapes of France.  And don’t worry, the poor cat does indeed find a home with the new occupants of his old house.

Harry and Lulu

Lulu is desperate for a dog.  Imagine her disappointment when her parents give her not a real dog but just a stuffed toy, Harry. But wait, it turns out Harry is not only real, but he comes from France and he whisks Lulu away to visit his home city!  The great illustrations in Arthur Yorinks’ Harry and Lulu take us a on a magical tour of the City of Lights with the two new friends and Harry gets the chance to heroically save his new owner.

The Giraffe that Walked to Paris

This is a captivating and true tale about the first giraffe ever to live in Europe!   Back in 1826 the pasha of Egypt gave a giraffe as a gift to the king of France. The Giraffe That Walked to Paris by Nancy Milton tells the incredible story of the giraffe’s voyage first by boat to Marseilles, then on foot through the towns and villages of France, all the way to Paris. Unsurprisingly she was greeted with a fabulous royal parade on her arrival in Paris.

Babar Loses His Crown

Everyone’s favourite elephant stars in this Paris tale.  In Babar Loses his Crown by Laurent de Brunhoff, the poor old elephant king is on a trip to Paris with his family when his crown gets lost in a luggage mix-up.  Obviously he can’t possibly be seen in public at the Opera without his crown.  So we get taken on a tour of Paris as the family searches for the crown.  A great Paris tale for younger kids.


No Paris kids book guide would be complete without the city’s most famous little girl, Madeline, from the wonderful books by Ludwig Bedelmans.  Generations have been reading these books since they were first published in 1940 and with good reason.  She is a little girl with spirit and the art work is timeless.  Every family gets hooked on the rhythms of the lines that begin: “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived 12 little girls in two straight lines.”  After the November Paris attacks the New Yorker magazine replayed those lines for us in a way that brought a tear to my eye, reminding those little girls that “their country still shines”.

Everybody Bonjours!

We join a little girl and her family as they go around Paris in Everybody Bonjours by Leslie Kimmelman and Sarah MacMemeny.  The artwork is fun and engaging and the words are lilting and addictive.  A book that will prove to your kids that Paris is very much for them.

Snowy Snow Leopard’s – Paris Adventure Book

Centered on a childs love of animals, this entire story is based on the adventures of a leopard in Paris. By day Snowy Snow is at the zoo but by night she takes a stroll through Paris, discovering the sites and the places that she thinks children will love. Written in a poetry format accompanied by beautiful illustrations, this short tale takes the reader on a journey throughout the city as well as getting to know the main character Snowy Snow. Snowy Snow Leopard’s – Paris Adventure Book – written by Jacobine de Zwann, Illustrated by Tatiana Van der Linden. This book was released in May 2016.

Now before you immediately click on Amazon to order your chosen book,  you might think about popping into one of the few remaining English language Paris bookstores for at least one of your books?  In the five years I have been here, I have seen Village Voice and The Red Wheelbarrow both disappear.  We still, thankfully, have the wonderful Shakespeare and Company on the Left Bank and WH Smith on the Right Bank for our browsing pleasure.   But we will only get to keep them if we keep making at least some of our purchases there.  So sure, click on Amazon for some books but make a point of getting at least some in person at the bookstore.  Use it or lose it!

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