Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday Gift Post--The Rise of Babar Merchandise, and the Smoothing of the Rough Edges in the Character of Babar.

Here's a display I've been working on for about a year. Babar product started showing up from our gift vendors last fall, from both Galison (now part of Chronicle) and Schylling. The problem was that while we got our wooden letter magnets right away, the kaleidoscopes, wooden car, and wooden puzzle did not ship for several months.

At the Minnesota gift show, I chatted with the rep, reminding her that I still wanted these items when they became available. They wound up shipping in September. By then, we also spotted a round Babar puzzle, and that seemed like enough for a display.

Of course no display would be completete without the classic Babar titles. In order, the books by Jean de Brunhoff are The Story of Babar, The Travels of Babar, and Babar the King. de Brunhoff wrote two more books that are out of print in English, The ABC of Babar and Zephir's Holiday (there's probably something unpublishable in the first, and Zephir is Babar's monkey friend who hasn't held up as well as the elephant is featured in the second, elephantless). The series continued to be penned by his son Laurent.

There are also a number of contemporary board books, including a contemporary ABC title. Interestingly enough, the second most popular title after the original on our wholesaler's demand list is one that is quite contemporary, Babar's Yoga for Elephants .

Babar was a staple of my childhood, and while there is a cartoon series that has brought him to a wider audience, it hasn't been as heavily licensed as Dr. Seuss or Curious George.  I used to take the books out of the library all the time, and had an LP (yes, a vinyl album) storybook, that chronicled the adventures of Babar, Celeste, Arthur (that rascal!), Zephir, and the rest of the gang.

Babar, like many other children's book characters, is a product of his time, as this critic said, reflecting the waning days of French imperialism. Some folks can have issues with the underlying "civilize the barbarians" message and benevolent dictator pose of King B. The books written by his son Laurent are said to smooth the rough edges of Babar's character.

Let me say that after looking at the books, you wonder why someone isn't trying to license Make Way for Ducklings or some other children's book without quite the amount of baggage. That said, if elephants were able to fend for themselves, we might not have the same issues with ivory poaching.

Apparently this has not been the case in Japan, where there are said to be several boutiques.Ellie Pithers in the UK Telegraph noted earlier this year that there's a line of menswear created by Soulland based on the original illustrations. I'm going to hold out for the Otis the tractor work shirts. Or the Anatole line of berets and smocks. As I remember, he was quite the compassionate mouse.

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