December 6 – Happy Birthday, Jean de Brunhoff

Posted on December 6, 2014

Babar the Elephant was a family creation.

And today's famous birthday, Jean de Brunhoff, was the father of that family.

Once upon a time, a French artist named Jean married a pianist named Cecile. They had two little boys, Mathieu and Laurent. And one day Mathieu was sick and uncomfortable. His mommy did what so many other mommies have done, over the years: she distracted him from his misery by telling a story.

In Cecile's story, a little elephant named Babar left the jungle and traveled to a city. The two boys loved their mother's story so much that they asked their father to paint pictures of Babar and the other characters. And soon the first Babar picture book, The Story of Babar, was written and illustrated.

Now, it just so happened that the de Brunhoff family ran a publishing business. The plan was to publish the picture book with the words “told by Jean and Cecile de Brunhoff,” but Cecile insisted that her name be taken off. Many people know that she created the premise and characters (at least) of the story, and they sometimes refer to boy Jean and Cecile as the authors, but the actual book has been attributed to only Jean (again, at her request).

Jean de Brunhoff (born on this date in 1899) wrote and illustrated six more Babar books, but he died from tuberculosis when he was just 37 years old! What a shame!

Still, the Babar books went on. How did that happen?

Jean's brother Michel de Brunhoff oversaw the publishing of Jean's last two books, which had only been illustrated in black and white. Michel arranged for artists to color the illustrations with paint, and he had Laurent (Jean's older son) do some of the painting. 

At that point, Laurent was 13 years old.

Another publishing house soon bought the rights to the Babar books and reprinted all seven of them. Millions of copies were sold all around the world.

World War II happened, and it interrupted many things – including in France, which was occupied by Nazi forces for four years. So it is not, perhaps, so very surprising that when a new Babar book came out after the war, most readers thought that the six-year gap between books was due to the war! (Many readers didn't notice that the first name of the author was different, and they were unaware of Jean's untimely death.)

The real reason for the 6-year gap was that Laurent was busy growing up. As a young adult, he ended up adopting his father's style of painting elephants and writing more Babar books. He said that it was a way of keeping the memories of his father and of his own childhood alive!

Laurent is an old man now.

To celebrate Jean de Brunhoff, read Babar books, explore the crafts and other activities at Babar-dot-com, have fun with Babar's Painting Game and Picnic Game, and check out the Disney Junior Babar games.

Also on this date:

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest pages on:
And here are my Pinterest boards for:

No comments:

Post a Comment