Our children’s books
Our children’s books
I still have a memory of the amphitheater, but maybe it was just an ordinary meeting room. The solemnity of the moment still washes over me, years later. I came to attend the oral testing of the competition and I only saw the candidates from behind, while the jury of five people looked towards me from afar. If the members of the jury greeted each candidate with a few words of welcome, they were still there to test them, sort them, select them, eliminate the majority, keep only a few.
Oh, these were not students experienced in this type of exercise, but high school students who had not yet graduated, hoping to join an exchange program between a major English university and the Sorbonne at the beginning of the school year. They were certainly good students, unaccustomed to failures, some of which had to experience them for the first time.
They carefully prepared a verse about their motivation. They have been reading the press for the last few weeks. They knew how to say what they learned on such an excursion or such an extracurricular activity. They didn’t come as tourists! However, when the young girl was asked what her favorite English book was, an angel walked through the room. Everyone realized in the blink of an eye that she was taken aback. How to recognize the hesitation, when it lasts less than it takes to fill the lungs before the names we expected are announced, William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, William Blake, Thomas Hardy?
None of these geniuses came to the rescue of this weak candidate. Of the book that came to her mind when she needed it most, she didn’t even know the author. Yet when she uttered the fateful title, Good night Moon (Good evening, Moon), the five jurors paused, imperceptibly moving away from the table where they were taking notes while, surreptitiously, the eyes of some met the eyes of the others. Something just happened.
I’m afraid of scaring this thing by trying to show it. For those who don’t know Good night Moon in the original version (Harper Collins) or in the French edition (L’École des loisirs) know that this is a book intended for very young children. Illustrated with brightly colored drawings, it describes the dream journey of a little white rabbit lost in a big bed, looked after by a knitting and talking grandmother “Chuut…”.
The rabbit names familiar objects that surround him, as well as the moon and stars, and wishes them good evening as if calmly and methodically extinguishing them one by one. On a blank page, he even wants to “Hello, nobody”and finally greetings “Sounds of the Earth” (this masterpiece of an ordinary fairy was boycotted by librarians for decades, children’s literature did not like it, but that is another story).
Before our eyes, in the ceremony of the final exam of a competition, a children’s book was created from the most archaic memories of a young girl and saved her. And in the very heart of the jury, what kind of response did the evocation of this book immediately have, what sweet memories were imbued with their exchanged views?
It is no coincidence that this story is on our minds today! This weekend we really heard a lot about what is called children’s literature, which held its annual fair in Montreuil. I’ve never been there, but I’ve always spent time and spent a lot in the children’s sections of bookstores, which in France are full of nuggets. I also kept my favorite children’s books, often “Little Golden Books” – some of which, e.g Five little firefighterswritten by the same American author as Good night Moon.
In childhood, we read long before we knew how to read. The books we leaf through, the pages of which we explore for a long time in silence, are not simple picture books. Books about early childhood, with their few lines of indecipherable text, glorify the magic of words. Words we cannot read are full of mystery and promise riches.
These are the treasures that came to the aid of the young candidate, emerging moreover in a foreign language from the depths of the time when she could not read. But, like magicians, those three words brought everyone back to the prehistory of their own history that brought them to this amphitheater. Because we may not forget our children’s books, but neither do they, especially they, never forget us.