There is a double charm of the book: one that the book does not tell a story as Jean de Brunhoff’s other works did, and two, that the illustrations to link into the alphabet are in French yet it was sold in an English market. The French version, ABC de Babar, was released by Editions du Jardin des Modes, Paris, in 1934. Jean de Brunhoff used characters and setting from his previous three books to create the alphabet book. His first book of the little, orphan elephant, Babar was published in 1931, and by his death in 1937 seven further stories about Babar had been released with
his son, Lawrence, continuing the legacy writing and illustrating thirty more titles.
The London publishers, Methuen, released their first edition of the alphabet book on October 14th 1937 and their second publication was in 1949. In order to be able to identify the objects on the page a child would need to be fairly fluent in French – maybe a rare ability at the time! De Brunhoof did assist his readers by providing a list of French and English words listed alphabetically at the end of the book. However, it is a challenge to identify all the words on a given page – how many of the words for the illustrations for the “B” page can you find?
A rare collection of the original sketches and hand coloured proofs of the 1934 ABC de Babar have been gifted by Laurent de Brunhoff, the son of de Brunhoff, to the Houghton Library at Harvard University and are displayed until August 31st. It is a chance to see eighteen of the images from the preparatory stages of the book and glimpse into the creative process behind the books. Failing a viewing at the exhibition have a look at the Babar books here to understand their enduring the appeal since their time of publication in the 1930’s.