Among my many French inspired obsessions, Babar the elephant is one of them; a wonderfully illustrated childrens’ book. I don’t think it’s anything new that publications and journalists have reevaluated the story behind Babar and deemed it “an endorsement of the civilizing effects of French colonialism,” (Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker).
I think it’s a fair claim, because it IS a story about a baby elephant living in a jungle with his mother until she gets shot by hunters. Babar then goes to the city and lives with a wealthy old lady who makes him wear expensive suits, and teaches him to walk on his hind legs. Working elephants in the jungle walk on all four legs and do not wear clothes, signaling that they are of a lower class. There are all these other elements that go into it as well, which the New Yorker article goes into much detail with.
Despite this political controversy, I still appreciate the illustration that goes into these books, and the sweet childhood memories of Babar. Instead of coaxing me not to share these books with my kids someday, it inspires me to want to learn French even more so I can read the original copies.