A Lion in Paris

To continue our Picturebooks in Translation theme for March, Gail has chosen ‘A Lion in Paris’ by Beatrice Alemagna. Beatrice is Italian and lives in France and writes in both Italian and French. ‘Un Lion à Paris’ was published by Autrement in 2006 and was winner of the Bologna Ragazzi Special Mention Award in 2007. It was translated into English by Rae Walter and published by the highly regarded Tate Publishing in 2014 as ‘A Lion in Paris’. The inside front cover which shows a map of Paris (Plan de Paris), the dedication page and signs in the illustrations remain in French. The English version flows naturally, and is faithful to the original. Here are two read-alouds in French of ‘Un Lion à Paris’ demonstrating two different video production approaches:

‘A Lion in Paris’ is a large book (39 x 29 cms) and opens vertically, with the verbal text on each top, white verso page and artwork on the recto page below. It tells the story of a lion who was bored at home on the grasslands so sets off to find a ‘job, love and a future’. He arrives in Paris by train and the reader is taken on a tour of well-known Paris landmarks. As he roams around Paris (we can follow his route on the map of Paris on the inside front cover) he is surprised that no one takes much notice of him or attacks him even though he brings attention to himself by roaring loudly in the Métro. He finds love at the Louvre where Mona Lisa’s eyes follow him with a loving, tender look. The city that at first seemed dreary, frightening and grey now seemed to be smiling at him with all its windows. He arrives at Denfert-Rochereau, a large roundabout, where he finds an empty plinth in the centre. He climbs up onto it and is welcomed by tooting cars. And this is where he decided to stay. So ‘A Lion in Paris’ tells the story of an outsider who looks and feels different in an unknown city and who gradually comes to view the city in a positive light and to feel at home. It is also a very personal story as Beatrice Alemagna points out in a note at the end of the book as it tells the story of her own arrival in France from Italy.

The illustrations and collage-style images mix reality with fantasy and children will enjoy discovering all the details. On the back cover there is a quote from Chris Haughton ‘Seeing ‘A Lion in Paris’ made me realise how beautiful picturebooks can be’.

In terms of English language learning, it could prompt activities that involve children in giving directions, sequencing, describing feelings and emotions and even imagining their own story of an animal or a person arriving as a stranger in their own city. It is also an ideal way to introduce children to the city of Paris and to French culture. As Françoise Bui, a French-to-English translator comments, ‘translated books allow readers to access different cultures and different perspectives… and a way of travelling without leaving your armchair.’

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