By Josephine Murray and her daughter Kirstie
I first discovered this series of picture books at The Language Show in London a couple of years ago on the European Bookshop stand and was impressed by the way in which they combine a city guide for kids with quirkiness, humour and a narrative.
The premise for each book is that a child who lives in the city introduces the reader to some of the main sights and buildings, as well as their family, home-life, school and aspects of culture such as food, and festivals.
Published by ABC Melody, the full series including guides to Tokyo, Brussels and Stockholm is available in French from the publisher, and many of the titles are available in French from the European Bookshop’s Viens Voir Ma Ville page. Currently, only Marie de Paris has been translated into English, but the guides to Berlin, Rome and Madrid (with slightly simplified versions of the French text) are available from the same web page in German, Italian and Spanish respectively. Even with no knowledge of the language, the books are an enjoyable read, because of the vocabulary lists, cognates and pictures.
The books are laid out in double page spreads, and the detailed illustrations provide plenty of things to spot and talk about. The hard-back versions have front and end papers covered with repeated little pictures of cultural traditions; the Paris book has croissants and an art deco Métro station, among other things.
As an added bonus, all the French versions, and the English version of Marie from Paris, have a freely available audio version on the ABC Melody website. Not simply the text read aloud, these audio versions convey the authentic sounds of the city in which the book is set, for example there’s flamenco music in the Madrid book, and a real Guignol puppet show going on in the Paris book. You can buy the soundtrack on CD in Spanish for the Madrid book.
Marie de Paris / Marie from Paris
Written by Françoise Sabatier-Morel and Isabelle Pellegrini
Illustrated by Princesse Camcam
Translator not stated
Translated from French
Seven-year-old Marie introduces the reader to her home-town of Paris, some of its iconic sights and buildings, as well as her family, friends, school and what she does in her free time.
We get an insight into aspects of French culture, such as Guignol puppet shows, and the Thirteen Desserts traditionally eaten in the South of France at Christmas. The detailed illustrations add to this, showing us not only famous aspects of France like the Eiffel tower but also less-well known ‘sitting-dog’ windows on Paris apartment buildings, and French handwriting on menus and shopfronts.
At the back of the book there’s an illustrated vocabulary list with several of the words – some of which are left in French within the main text – and a description of what they are and which page they’re on.
There are plenty of opportunities for further learning, by looking up things that are mentioned briefly in the text, such as the Fête de la Musique, and shown in the pictures, particularly French words like the (genuine) poem on the blackboard, and the box for ‘feutres’ in Marie’s classroom.
The illustrations are full of details to spot, such as Marie’s father’s dropped metro ticket, the real titles on books sold by the second-hand book sellers, and little white mice hiding in some scenes.
Felix aus Berlin / Félix de Berlin
Written by Anke Feuchter (both German and French versions)
Illustrated by Élodie Durand
Kirstie: In this book, Felix is talking about his city and his life within it. While keeping some humour, this book is also very educational. In the illustrations, there are images of the German flag, famous landmarks such as Berlin Zoo, the Berlin wall, East Side Gallery and many more.
As well as showing and talking about landmarks, the book also talks about German cultural traditions such as meals, education, Christmas, celebrations, sports and music.
My version is in German, but you can get the book in French too. At the back of the book there’s a list of some of the key words and explanations of what they mean.
I recently sang as a chorister in a huge concert with hundreds of people singing and playing in the orchestra at Gloucester cathedral. The piece performed was Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and the words were in Latin and German. As a result, my knowledge of German pronunciation was improved and I found it easier to read and understand this book.
!Hola, soy Diego! de Madrid / Diego de Madrid
Written by Dulce Gamonal (both Spanish and French versions)
Illustrated by Laurent Audouin
As with the other two books, the reader gets an insight into life in Madrid from eight-year-old Diego. He shows us some of the sights, for example the Parque del Retiro and the Rastro market, food sold in a bakery and a bar, cultural elements such as flamenco dancing, the giant puppet parade for the feast of San Isidro, and eating twelve grapes as midnight strikes on new year’s eve to have good luck the following year.
Instead of a vocabulary list at the end of the book, a few key words and phrases from within each double page are listed down the side along with a little picture. These words and phrases are those you’d typically find in a beginners’ Spanish lesson, such as ‘mi madre’ and ‘tocar la guitarra’. Young readers will enjoy finding the bull and bullfighter which are cleverly incorporated into each double page spread.
Meet Josephine and Kirstie
When Josephine was little, she wanted to be a lorry driver like Long Distance Clara in kids’ TV programme Pigeon Street. Like Clara, she meets lots of people through working as a journalist and writer, and she has travelled between Gloucestershire to Norwich – five hours each way – many times recently for her MA in Literary Translation at UEA. She tweets @MsJHMurray.
Kirstie’s favourite foreign word is Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (blackforest gateau) because it has lot of different sounds within the same word. Also, it’s a cake, and she likes eating. Of all the places in the world, she would most like to travel to Hawaii, because her parents went there for their honeymoon, and it would be fascinating to go to the same places they did and do the same things they did.