Writer, editor and mum of Channel-crossing twin toddlers, M. Astella Saw knows more than most about fielding kids in Paris, London and Singapore – and on the roads in between. Her list of Paris books for young minds will enthuse any tot ahead of a trip, and you can check out more of Astella's work on her website.
'My roads to Paris were many,' she says, 'and I haven’t even quite arrived yet. I started learning French after high school, egged on by a friend who said it would lead to us meeting French boys. I maybe shouldn’t have been surprised when, 13 years later, I ended up marrying a Parisian in a stripy shirt. We live in London with our two girls at the moment, but take the train to Paris regularly to see family, and indulge in chouquettes by the paper sack.' When in town, she likes to head to Le Jardin des Plantes, 'for its delicate ferns and ancient moss curling round the walls of a historic greenhouse; its wicked hyenas and chic zebras; its massive whale skeleton; its dodo in the dream-sequence merry-go-round; its two insouciant ducks waddling down the sandy pathways.'
Astella and her girls are currently reading:
'Virginia Wolf' by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault.
Astella's recomended Paris reading:
'A Lion in Paris' by Beatrice Alemagna
Inspired by the 19th-century stone lion of Belfort in Place Denfert-Rochereau, this whimsical story takes place in pencil-scribbly, cut-and-pasted Paris, as an engaging, endearing lion tries to find a place to call his own. Paris isn’t always the glorious city of lights, here: in the lion’s most desolate moment, the rain turns him 'all grey and shiny like the roofs around him'.
'This is Paris' by Miroslav Sasek
There’s plenty to keep a kid’s interest, from butchers to strong men, from a greengrocer’s cat to the sailing boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg, all in the Czech author-illustrator’s jolly 1950s style. Inspiring stuff – and children will be able to see how much has changed, and how much has remained, since the book was published in 1959.
'Oops!' by Jean-Luc Fromental; illustrations by Joëlle Jolivet
This madcap rumble and tumble through the capital city is a rambunctious read. Not Atget’s Paris, this – children will have a laugh following the movie shoot, the parade, the swarms of bees, the clowns and the rampaging bears down Haussman’s boulevards.
'Mr Chicken Goes to Paris' by Leigh Hobbs
Mr Chicken, an enormous, top-hatted fowl with a frown to match, is an incongruous sight as he visits all the landmarks of elegant Paris. This is a brilliant, nonsensical introduction to the city’s icons; as the poulet himself says from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, 'Magnifique!'
'Minette’s Feast' by Susanna Reich; illustrations by Amy Bates
Paris is but a delicious, living backdrop for Julia Child’s cat, Minette: there are mornings at le boucher, le boulanger, la crémière and le pâtissier – though of course 'mouse and bird are much preferred'. A story not just of a city, but also of one of the city’s best-known cooks – and her lucky poussiequette.