Think of the handful of beloved American children’s classics you grew up with, from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Then imagine if your childhood took place in another country, with a different canon of bedtime reading. How would those other stories have shaped you?
The independent, family-owned publisher Enchanted Lion Books, based in Brooklyn, specializes in unearthing a parallel library of classic children’s books, many of them in translation for the first time. The owner, Claudia Bedrick, has devoted herself to bringing a rich selection of titles from around the world to American readers by both reissuing classics and publishing new, original titles. She translates many of the French books herself, and is passionate about presentation.
Enchanted Lion celebrates the art of the picture book by producing high-quality designs with otherworldly narratives, the results of which are unique, gorgeous, and oftentimes a little rebellious.
Below, three of my favorite titles, two classics and one modern, all of them translated from French.
By André François
This is the only book both written and illustrated by the late French graphic designer, illustrator, and cartoonist André François, whose work frequently appeared in The New Yorker, Vogue, and Sports Illustrated, as well as in French satirical magazines. Crocodile Tears, about the pursuit of the titular reptile, was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book back in 1957, and was reissued by ELB this year, in its peculiar original format: a long skinny box designed to look like a fragile airmail envelope, said to contain “1 crocodile.”
Crocodile Tears (Enchanted Lion Books) $16.95; powells.com.
The silkscreen artist and comic book illustrator Blexbolex, born in France in 1966, has a distinctly European aesthetic, which is inspired by vintage design and incorporates old printing methods with modern bookmaking techniques. SEASONS was selected as a New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated book of 2010, and is an immersive series of expressive seasonal images—a picture of a boy walking through falling leaves turns over to reveal a girl fogging a cold window with her warm breath—and each page contains one word to describe the scene (the word for the walking boy is “delight”).
If you can’t get enough Blexbolex, mark your calendars for his newest title, VACATION, which comes out on March 3 of next year and follows a young girl who is suddenly forced to share her and her grandfather’s idyllic home with a visitor, an elephant.
SEASONS (Enchanted Lion Books) $22.95; powells.com.
VACATION (Enchanted Lion Books) $24.95
By Nelly Stéphane, illustrated by André François
Originally published in the U.S. in 1958, this beautiful book about a boy who gives life to animals when he draws them was brought back into print from ELB last year. Roland is the name of a creative French schoolboy who lives, as most children do, somewhere between reality and imagination. It’s another example of François’s expressive illustrations, and is written by Nelly Stéphane, a pseudonym of French novelist Nelly Gensbourger.
Roland (Enchanted Lion Books) $17.95; powells.com.