Terrifying French Children's books
June 1, 2012 2:13 AM   Subscribe

There are some frightening looking children's books titles in English but, it seems nobody manages to bring them out like the French.
posted by rongorongo (48 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
posted by R. Schlock at 2:37 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nightmare fuel
posted by delmoi at 2:44 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wait, a children's book called "visiting the orgasm"?
posted by delmoi at 2:48 AM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

The ABC of Anger what a great name for a hardcore album.
posted by SageLeVoid at 2:49 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

(or maybe the translation is closer to "the visiting orgasm")
posted by delmoi at 2:50 AM on June 1, 2012

"Nightmare Crunchers":
Death Metal or Breakfast Cereal?

Or Both?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:50 AM on June 1, 2012

Huh. These don't particularly surprising to me, and certainly not terrifying. I was a hyper-imaginative child who suffered very badly from what we then called "bad nightmares" but what is now called "night terrors". I used to find "scary" stories oddly reassuring (See? It isn't just me!) and I seem to recall the covers of some of my early books as being much darker than anything on display here. I'll have to see if I can Google any.
posted by Decani at 2:54 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The ABC of Anger what a great name for a hardcore album.

And this illustration from inside the book would make a good album cover.
posted by robcorr at 2:54 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

We got a French kid's book out of the library here in Germany that looked cute -- might've been a board book even -- called Quand je serai grand. It started pretty regular: when I'm big, I'll stay up late. When I'm big, I'll eat all the candy. Then it subtly shifted to stuff like, when I'm big, I'll make enormous shits. When I'm big, I'll have a giant schlong. Then: when I'm big, I'll go to work and sit in an office all day. When I'm big, I'll lose all my teeth. Finally, it showed the character on the verge of death, under a starry sky, and it said, when I'm big, I'll feel terribly small again. The end. I think I loved it, but it did feel odd reading it to a two-year old.
posted by muckster at 3:10 AM on June 1, 2012 [23 favorites]

Three of these would appear to have Dutch authors, so are probably just French editions. To judge a book by its cover, the Revenge of the Rabbits looks like a must-read!
posted by sagwalla at 3:15 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know if I'd call this one frightening, but It's Just A Plant definitely caught me off guard.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:33 AM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Now I want to know why they joined those two boys at birth! Was it some sort of sinister medical expiriment? Were they trying to keep the one's dismembered head alive? I want to know!

See also.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:58 AM on June 1, 2012

I don't know if I'd call this one frightening, but It's Just A Plant definitely caught me off guard.

Really? I could tell what it was about from page 2.

Although we like Babar in our house, I'm not a fan of this page in Babar the King. It probably frightens me more than the kids, though. (Actually all of Babar the King is a little disturbing to me.)
posted by katyh at 5:05 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Russian children's books are quite something. Was looking at one at my in-laws recently. Story's about little Vladimir and his doggie- which got run over by a train. Or Tatia- who fell thru the ice. Grim stuff.
posted by T10B at 5:06 AM on June 1, 2012

I used to find "scary" stories oddly reassuring

As a parent, I find "scary" to my children can be really unpredictable, based on their age and imagination and experiences. Usually the conventional scary or weird stories don't bother them. However, I do skip ogre (the proper child-eating ones) stories when reading fairy tale books (my kids are under 5)
posted by katyh at 5:08 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Really? I could tell what it was about from page 2.

Uh, yeah, I didn't mean the plot surprised me. I meant more that the concept rolled forward into publication.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:23 AM on June 1, 2012

Ugh she barely understands the French titles. Yet another one to file in "I Don't Speak French Very Well But I Think The French Are Weird And So Does Everyone Else So I'll Make Money Off Common Stereotypes Rather Than Make A Genuine Effort To Understand!" *grumblegrumble*

Cris - Does not mean "crisis". It means "shouting" (literally, "shout" or "shouts"). "Crisis" is "crise" (feminine).

Mange-poussin does not mean "chicken-eating", it means "chick-eating". A poussin is a chick. Weird, but then we do have a certain fairy tale about children being abandoned by their parents to near-certain cannibalistic death by a witch, so there's that. (Hansel and Gretel)

"La tête dans le sac" is a play on the saying "la tête dans les nuages" (head in the clouds).

"L'enfant silence" does not mean "the silent child", it means "the child - silence". Either her name is silence or there's something about silence surrounding her. "Silent child" would be "l'enfant silent".

Totally missed a great play on words with this one: Trolls de dents plays on the saying "drôles de..." which is usually used to denote uncommonness, on a positive note. For instance, Charlie's Angels is called "Drôles de Dames" in French. As you may notice, that sounds a lot like "Trolls de dents".

Finally, another one missing the point, L'amour qu'on porte does not mean "The love that transports us", hello second-year French. It means "the love we carry". To say "the love that transports us" with the same verb, it would be "l'amour qui nous porte."

/end grumpy bilingual pedantry
posted by fraula at 5:24 AM on June 1, 2012 [26 favorites]


Snip Snip!
posted by atrazine at 5:24 AM on June 1, 2012

maybe the translation is closer to "the visiting orgasm"

The Coming?
posted by Segundus at 5:56 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you, fraula.

/another sulky pedant
posted by Wolof at 6:00 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh for the love of Pete, it's not like the French are OMG NOT PURITAN.

A Kid's First Book About Sex ages 5 and up.
posted by fraula at 6:12 AM on June 1, 2012

Snip Snip!

The Tiger Lillies, the answer to the question, what happens when Wes Anderson gets tapped to do the commercial for the Gathering of the Juggalos?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:17 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even at their weirdest, modern French children books can't match the terrors of traditional children stories. My 4-year old picked up at the library a recent book about a kid who copes with his Alzheimer's-diseased granny's erratic behaviour by pretending she's some sort of superspy/superhero. It's sad, but it's sweet and funny, unlike the Little match girl that she wants me to read once a week, because she somehow enjoy stories about the starvation-induced hallucinations of frozen, dying children. And it's part of a book of traditional winter tales where the characters tend to freeze, melt, or burn (rather than, say, play in the snow).
In the library of my old kindergarten school there was a book (written in the 1950s) about a duckling who wanted to see the world. The duckling embarked on a series of increasingly dangerous adventures, until he visited a tribe of black-skinned (what else? this was colonial France) savages and the last image showed the poor duckling being boiled alive because curiosity killed the duck.
posted by elgilito at 6:17 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

This reminds me that the things I automatically interpret simply as Great Art, a certain percentage of other people (philistines, I tell you!) brush aside as "creepy" or "weird". If something is genuinely creative it will most likely come across as "creepy" or "weird" to a large number of people, because the alienness of new things can be unsettling. These books all look way more interesting and original than 'Mr. Bunny Goes Camping', or whatever. And I mean that for children especially, who are often more appreciative of creativity than adults.

The best childrens authors usually do have unsettling artwork and subject matter: Roald Dahl (with those primitive Quentin Blake illustrations), Edward Gorey, Shel Silverstein, Lewis Carroll.

If you want to make awesome art, aspire to make stuff that's creepy and weird.
posted by dgaicun at 6:29 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am evil and going to hell for laughing at the "Joined at Birth" book.
posted by symbioid at 6:43 AM on June 1, 2012

Here's what it's like to be a parent making decisions.


Reading my kid a creepy book = I'm a cool parent and the kid thinks it's awesome

Not reading my kid a creepy book = I'm boring and overprotective and am stifling my kid's maturity and creatitivity.


Reading my kid a creepy book = I'm an idiot and my kid ends up telling his therapist about it years later due to trauma.

Not reading my kid a creepy book = I'm a responsible guardian who lets him grow up without having to deal with creepy stuff too soon.

Either outcome is equally likely, because all kids are different and there's no way to tell ahead of time. Oh the fun!
posted by emjaybee at 6:59 AM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Whatever, just because it's not "Pablum Bear and the You Can Do Anythings" it's hardly terrifying.
posted by dobie at 7:01 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

La visite de la petite mort is a delightfull book and Kitty Crowther a very nice person (we invited her at my library some years ago).
She won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award two years ago. You can find some of her illustrations in this blog post.
posted by gatsugatsu at 7:01 AM on June 1, 2012

I had a German classmate who received a set of unexpurgated Grimm's fairy tales from his parents that he could pass on to his own kids. He had the best take on this: "In America, you coddle your kids, yet you make life so hard." Maybe we should focus less on scary stories than on making life less punitive and mean-spirited for everybody.
posted by jonp72 at 7:04 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Still wondering what is the story behind The Day Papa Killed His Old Aunt.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:10 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I dunno, these have nothing on the german kids book I had as a child, featuring a man that cut off your thimbs if you sucked them, a girl setting herself on fire, a bot that drowns...

posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:12 AM on June 1, 2012

grrr, boy that drowns
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:13 AM on June 1, 2012

French children books are not as much about terror or narrative twists as they are about being in touch with one's feelings and acknowledging that as a potential source of things to come.
posted by nicolin at 7:14 AM on June 1, 2012

Maisy is a terrifying nightmare from the perspective of the "little black cat" (giant anthropomorphized prey animals always coming up on you in your sleep...)
posted by ennui.bz at 7:54 AM on June 1, 2012

Maybe if there was more of this in the States I wouldn’t be surrounded by adults who think nearly everything in life is scary or gross.
posted by bongo_x at 9:43 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks, fraula. I was repeating "trolls de dents" to myself over and over, knowing it reminded me of something, but exactly what I couldn't say.

/aspiring bilingual

And that chick with the faucet for a head, isn't that a reference to an image from a Hieronymus Bosch painting?
posted by benito.strauss at 9:57 AM on June 1, 2012

As part of our effort to promote babygoogly bilingualism, a substantial portion of her TV time is allotted to Télé-Québec's French-language children's programming. Babygoogly's current favorite is Dora l'exploratrice, which is somewhat mind-bending because instead of speaking English with bits of spanish thrown in, she speaks French with bits of heavily-accented English thrown in.

Hoever, Dora l'exploratice is usually followed by Cornemuse, a truly terrifying French-language featuring program. It's alleged written by psychologists, who apparently believe that nightmare-inducing furries promote child development.
posted by googly at 10:03 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Damn. I actually pulled back from the screen when Cornemuse popped up. It falls into an uncanny valley where monkeys look more and more like people.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:34 AM on June 1, 2012

Then there is the kind of book that isn't for children, but a large part of me feels they'd get a lot out of it.
posted by Salmonberry at 10:52 AM on June 1, 2012

From the Storify link, about La Vie de Kuma Kuma:
Any english book along these lines would end with Kuma-Kuma surrounded by his ethnically varied friends and being cuddled good night by his mother telling him he was as special as a star or something. Not so here. The very final page says merely:

"I'd like to think that Kuma Kuma is happy...".

opposite a BLANK PAGE.

Suck on THAT, pre-schooler.
But that's how Camus ends his essay on suicide:
One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
The tale of Kuma Kuma appears to be a retelling of The Myth of Sisyphus.

Suicide rates (per 100,000) for persons aged less than 15 years, 1999.
Canada 0.68
United States 0.53

France 0.20
posted by fredludd at 12:17 PM on June 1, 2012

My favourite French (Quebecois) kids book was called "Pooah!" (Sorry, I can't find a link right now - that combination of letters is OwNED by a Disney-fied bear....)

Pooah was about a baby that accidentally falls into a world of evil witches and monsters in the style of Tim Burton (I'd say it owes quite a bit to Beetlejuice). The baby refuses to drink the toad spit and all the other foods on offer, but eventually learns to eat horrible , disgusting things like milk and strawberries. The artwork is absolutely fantastic, and extremely creepy - my kids loved it, as did we. It really got me thinking that there's a culture that values art enough to give something like that to a kid.
posted by sneebler at 5:58 PM on June 1, 2012

As someone who spent part of his childhood in France (I was born there, but we travelled, well, it's a long story but I still spend a fair amount of my childhood there), I have to say that France has always had a substantial amount of literature, that's available from a young age.

I was actually reminded of that last year, when we went there for a couple of weeks and, now on the other side of the age register as a father, ended up looking at books for my son. There is a richness to the reading materials available to kids in France that we just don't find in the US. For example, there are shelves after shelves of magazines aimed completely at kids and a substantial variety to them: computer, science, arts, cooking, animals, comic books, arts and crafts, as well as the more traditional "educational" types. And they were (relatively) cheap: a magazine with a toy is about 3-4 euros ($5-6)

Books are also pretty cheap. One of the bookstores we went to, Gilbert Jeunes, in Paris had a whole floor of children books. I'm sure all the titles listed in this story were available but there were so many other amazing books it was hard for my 6-year-old son to choose. We ended up with no less than 5 books on trains and a whole bunch of other things. We left the store with 46 books (he's bilingual so we were stocking up for the coming couple of years) and ended up with a bill that racked up a grand total of... 130 euros (less than $200) !!! I was really surprised and thought they had made a mistake but no.

Part of this is that they look to encourage kids to read so they can hook them for the longer run. The great thing is that there are titles about everything. For example, we picked up a great "encyclopedia of sexual life" which has multiple volumes based on age. Each book is age appropriate, starting with the bird and bees part for kindergarteners (making love is mentioned and a frank discussion of sperm and ovaries is included). As you go through the collection, it goes through more and more details, ending with the version for 16-18 year olds which include alternative sexuality (fetishes, etc)... Not something you'd find in the US but a series that can help demystify a topic few schools talk about in the US.
posted by TNLNYC at 6:58 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wonder if the French put more emphasis on childhood as a time to become an adult, where in the U.S. we treat it as the time to be a kid. I remember reading an Adam Gopnik story about taking his kid to a doctor while living in France. The kid was six or seven and the doctor said she should start eating blue cheese. Gopnik asked if there were some vitamins/nutrients that were especially abundant in blue cheese. The doctor said that no, there wasn't, but it was time she started to get used to eating it.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:05 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Like many others Heinrich Hoffman's book - and particularly his illustrations - were traumatically etched into some part of my brain when I was a child. In my case there was also an alternative with even more resonance however: The Modern Struwwelpeter - which was written by Jan Struther who was a relative. The names of all the brats - who meet their 1930s era sticky ends - were those of my dad, his brothers and cousins. EH Shepard illustrations added to the scariness. I must dig out the book and show it to some local French kids.
posted by rongorongo at 11:58 PM on June 1, 2012

Are we really debating weird kids' books without mentioning Gorey classics like Gashlycrumb Tinies and Dancing Cats and Neglected Murderesses?
posted by MuffinMan at 1:27 AM on June 2, 2012

I don't think of Gorey as a kid's book writer, but more for adults and precocious teens with a dark streak. Are there any parents out there whose kids like Gorey?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:08 AM on June 2, 2012

I think Jenny Colgan simply has a paranoid mind.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 10:28 PM on June 2, 2012

Colgan's not paranoid - she's very, very funny. I'm tickled to see her linked here.
posted by 100watts at 2:18 PM on June 6, 2012

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