Book Reviews

B is for Babar!

Long live King Barbar!
I was rumi­nat­ing over and over ask­ing myself “who or what can I write about with the let­ter “B” besides “Bar­ney, the Dinosaur” who is one of my worst night­mares. This is my first post on ABC Wednes­days, so I wanted to write about some­one I was really fond of. He didn’t appear to me until I was look­ing at a statue of Gane­sha, the Hindu Ele­phant god that sits on an altar by my door who smiles benev­o­lently at me. Then it struck me, Babar! I haven’t thought about him for ages, yet he was one of my most beloved friends when I was a lit­tle girl. I was blessed to have a mother who loved to read these fan­tas­tic books to her chil­dren and the “Babar” series was one of these gifts.

Babar was a young ele­phant who lived in the jun­gles of Africa with his friends includ­ing a mis­chie­vous, a large ele­phant fam­ily and a mother who sings lul­la­bies to Babar. One day a hunter shoots and kills his mother and Babar decides after great con­tem­pla­tion to go to the city, gain some wis­dom and then return back to his fel­low ele­phants and teach them what he has learned. If this doesn’t sound like the story of the “enlight­ened one; Bud­dha” I don’t know what does! Babar is a great arche­typal fig­ure for chil­dren and adults. Under tragic cir­cum­stances, he not only man­ages to sur­vive but gains courage and strength despite his sad­ness. A les­son that has stayed with me to this day. I remem­ber hold­ing the shiny red cov­ered books, star­ing at the sweet and sim­ple illus­tra­tions mes­mer­ized and drawn to Babar and his adven­tures. I remem­ber cry­ing when Babar’s mother was killed and I think that is when I said to myself; “when I grow up, I want to pro­tect ani­mals that are being hunted like Babar’s mother.” And I have in my own ways. The books weren’t writ­ten to focus on death and tragedy, but like great fairy tales, Babar teaches us that when tragedy hap­pens in our life, not to give up!

At the age of eleven, my par­ents had a hor­ri­ble, bit­ter divorce leav­ing me scared, unsure of life and des­per­ate for some com­pany who could under­stand me. As if there was an ele­phant guardian angel, I found my child­hood books of Babar, who sat with me for hours while the yelling and scream­ing was going on. I can’t say my fear com­pletely went away after read­ing “Babar” but I found com­fort and a king­dom where kind­ness, gen­eros­ity and loy­alty were trea­sured and that was enough.

Babar was born out of a mother’s imag­i­na­tion as a bed time story for her chil­dren in the early 1930’s, her hus­band Jean de Brun­hoff wrote a book out of her sto­ries called, “His­toire de Babar” writ­ten in their native French. A few years later, the book was trans­lated in Europe and the U.S. imme­di­ately cap­tur­ing chil­dren as well as adults.

It’s no won­der that I’ve always been attracted to the Hindu ele­phant god, Gane­sha, known as “Lord of Begin­nings, Remover of Obsta­cles” and “patron god of writ­ers and intel­lects. I imag­ine both him and Babar say­ing to me; ‘lighten up, Wendy. Don’t let your anx­i­ety stop you from liv­ing life!’ Has their mes­sage got­ten through to me? I’ll let you be the judge. My mother passed away over ten years ago, but I still say when I read “Babar”; thank you, mom, for intro­duc­ing me to one of my clos­est friends.

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