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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by René Goscinny
Age Range: 9-11
Nicholas, the naďve, lovable French school boy created in 1959 by René Goscinny (author of Asterix) and illustrated by world-renowned illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé is known throughout the world. The ‘Nicholas’ stories are now regarded as classics but are still as appealing today as when they were first written.
Nicholas never means to get into trouble, but whether at home or at school it seems to happen anyway. Nicolas and his friends – Alec, (his best friend) who eats all the time; Matthew who is always bottom of the class; Eddie who likes to punch his friends on the nose; Geoffrey whose dad is very rich and buys him everything he wants; Max who can run very fast because he has long legs; Rufus whose father is a policeman; Jeremy who has a little brother and Cuthbert who always comes top of the class and is the teacher's pet – are often caught up in a series of hilarious mishaps that always result in confusion, especially for their parents and teachers.
In the day-to-day adventures, whether it is overeating, smoking a cigar, worrying about a school report ('A rowdy and often inattentive pupil, given to fighting his friends. Could do better'), confusing the photographer hired to take the class photo, or trying desperately to help the teacher when the school inspector pays a visit, Nicholas and his friends always manage to make things worse.
Told in the first person by Nicholas, it is centred on the experiences of a child rather than an adult interpretation. The naďve point of view of Nicholas’ storytelling with adults as the target of the books' humour as he exposes the flaws of their perception is very amusing. Many of the 19 stories have wonderful tongue-in-cheek endings where Nicholas is always at a loss to understand the adult behaviour.
The unique story-telling style of Goscinny, together with the charm and wit of Sempé 's wonderful pen and ink drawings that capture every nuance, is what makes them so comical and heart-warming. The ‘Nicholas’ books have been expertly translated from the original French by Anthea Bell who also translated the entire Asterix saga into English.
Constant best-sellers in France and across Europe they are regularly used as teaching materials by primary and junior school teachers in France, Germany and Spain. They provide a vivid description of French life and culture and although the humour may be fifty years old with Nicholas and his friends belonging to a more innocent and bygone era, nevertheless these stories have the ability to delight both children and adults audiences.
The other titles in the series published by Phaidon are: Nicholas Again, Nicholas on Holiday, Nicholas and the Gang and Nicholas in Trouble .
Honor Winner of the Mildred L. Bachelder Award 2006.