Gail Gauthier: Now That’s A Story For Children!
From: Original Content
September 05, 2012 at 07:45PM
I am slowly making my way through Lectures Pour La Jeunesse by W.F.H. Whitmarsh. I say slowly because after years of self-study, I read French comme une jeunesse. I have a 1946 edition of the book that was originally published in 1936. This came out of my mother-in-law’s house, and no one has any idea what it was doing there. I, of course, believe it was waiting there for me.
The first paragraph of the Foreward: “This Reader is intended for pupils who have passed the earliest stages of the subject and are capable of understanding a simple text introducing only elementary constructions and common words.”
There you go. It is quite a perfect fit for me. My ease in reading French has improved since last winter when I met Marcel, un homme qui habit dans la maison de sante avec ma mere. Il a dit, “I speak pig French.” Oui!, j’ai pense! Je veux parler pig French aussi!” When you no longer have to worry about perfection–or spelling–or accent marks–reading, speaking, and writing French becomes plus facile.
Okay, so this is a book of stories for children, and they are far more enjoyable than the decades old Journal de Mickeys I’d been reading (I’m not that big a fan of the little ducks, as they’re known at our house) and far, far more enjoyable than the textbooks I was reading when I got started years back. These stories often have a little twist, like the one that turns on the fact that le duc can mean both the aristocrat and horned owl. (I kid you not.)
Histoire Corse, my favorite so far, deals with Corsican history. Evidently in days of old, Corsica was a wild and wooly place, where “the government sent hundreds of police with the mission to arrest or kill all the bandits.” (My piggy translation.) In this story, a French teacher tells his students of the short story Mateo Falcone written in the nineteenth century by Prosper Merimee. Mateo, he says, “was a typical Corsican, proud, violent, capable of being a good friend or a dangerous enemy.” Mateo’s twelve-year-old son, while left home alone, hides a bandit and then turns him over to the police when they come looking for him. Mateo comes home in time to see the bandit call his house the home of a traitor. So, he takes his kid out in the woods and shoots him.
Back in the 1930s they really knew how to write for children.
I haven’t read Mateo Falcone yet, but you can bet I will. And my enthusiasm for Lectures Pour La Jeunesse has definitely grown.