Rose on Keeping Babar’s Story Alive

Phyllis Rose, professor of English, emerita, and wife of Babar author Laurent de Brunhoff, spoke to The Globe and Mail about the iconic elephant of children’s book fame. Since the first Babar story was written by Jean de Brunhoff in 1931, it has become the longest-running children’s series in history. de Brunhoff’s son, Laurent, took over writing after his father died of tuberculosis at age 37. Now 89, Laurent de Brunhoff is working on his 50th Babar book.

According to the article, Rose “has long been helping her husband dream up ideas and pen the stories.” She assisted in other ways as well: When de Brunhoff attempted to draw Babar’s pregnant wife, Celeste, Rose “grabbed a pillow and modeled for him.”

In the article, Rose reflects on the original Babar story, which remains the most controversial:

Only a few pages into that first book, Babar’s mother is shot and killed by a “wicked hunter.” Today, many parents skip over that first book entirely to shield their children from any awful truths. “The Story of Babar would not get published today. There is no doubt in our minds,” says Rose, “I had a cousin who would never give her child a balloon because she was afraid the balloon would pop. I think that one of the purposes of children’s literature is to expose them to frightening and horrible things, in a safe way.”