WHAT I READ WHEN I WAS GROWING UP IN BELGIUM 🇧🇪📚
I grew up in Belgium, and that might be why I never read Anne of Green Gables or Charlotte's Web. Instead, I was busy reading:
- •The Martine booksI'm still devastated my mum made me sell my set of these. (We went through a phase of being really quite broke, which was odd since when my parents were together my mum was always telling my dad she was the one who brought in all the money.) Martine had a very traditional French girl's life, and in each book she did a different activity: got a pet or went to school or welcomes a baby brother. The illustrations are iconic and haven't changed since the 50s.
- •Les Malheurs de SophieNot this version though. I had my grandmother's very old pinkish covered books. They're the first novels I remember being in love with.
- •Word play booksThis one is about a lonely latchkey boy who discovers lice in his hair one day and becomes friends with them. The illustrations are wonderful, wonderful. And the word "pou" is easy to make pins of - which is no way takes away from the genius of the author.
- •A lot of World War II novels.France and Belgium are still deeply scarred by their occupation during the Wars. And now that I think about it, the '80s were really not that long after the '40s, so it makes sense.
- •AstérixI didn't read as many bandes dessinées as other kids, but I loved the few Asterix I read - especially "chez les Bretons", which is full of delightful deliberate bad translation of English to French and gems like "we've started digging a tunnel under the Channel, but it might take a while" and the history of tea as a magic potion.
- •Le Petit NicolasCharming and traditional and so very French, Nicolas got in all sorts of trouble with his group of friends - the one who ate too much, the one whose rich father bought him cool stuff, the annoying whiny one you couldn't hit because he wore glasses.
- •Les contes rouges du chat perchéIs this why I'm a cat person?? To this day, I still think from time to time about the cat describing a person scratching paper - ie. Writing.
- •Beginner's poetryWe learned poems off by heart and stood at the front of the class reciting them - at primary school, they were usually animal-based fables by Jean de la Fontaine. Some poets, like Maurice Carême, wrote works that were really accessible to kids; others, like Guillaume Apollinaire, wrote using their words to make shapes that illustrated what the words described. My favourite, though, was and still is Jacques Prévert. He's had a profound impact on my appreciation for language and on my own writing.
- •Some classics in translationOf course, nowadays, kids read Harry Potter. Ferdiné Hamster (aka Haffertee) probably doesn't count as a classic except in some Christian circles, but I loved him too.
- •Mon Bel OrangerThis one definitely made me cry. And yet I kept reading over and over.
- •La CicatriceThe fact I remembered who the author was 25 years later without having to look it up speaks for itself. It's a coming of age story about a boy born with a cleft palate. It probably made me cry.
- •Le Malade ImaginaireMolière is the Francophone Shakespeare equivalent, and a little more accessible, too. The one most people start with is this tale of the ridiculous hypochondriac.