Trouble, Tantrums and Treats, French-style

Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe’s Le Petit Nicolas is a series of books about a little French boy and the events in his life (in school and family). While there are no magical characters here, the creators have made these stories about everyday life so enjoyable that they make for a delightful read

Published: 24th February 2014 11:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th February 2014 11:17 AM   |  A+A-


We’ve looked at school stories before in this column, especially tales of schoolboys, in and out of the classroom. The unruly William, who can still be found whiling away his crowded hours in Richmal Crompton’s hilarious books, or Swami and his friends, captured for the ages in RK Narayan’s stories. This time, we welcome a schoolboy from France to their ranks. Make way, boys, there’s a new lad in class — Nicholas (Nicolas) from Le Petit Nicolas!

Nicholas is a small boy who lives in France with his mother and father. He has a great gang of friends in class, and he and his friends are forever playing, getting into massive fights, getting in trouble with their teachers and then making up and starting all over again.

Nicholas likes his teacher, but sometimes teaching an unruly class gets too much for her. At times like this, the boys have to be disciplined by a stern old male teacher called Spuds, or by the headmaster!

Nicholas’s gang calls itself the Avengers (not those Avengers! No fancy costumes or superpowers here). It includes the greedy Alec, Matthew the slowest boy in class, Eddie who is always up for a fight, Cuthbert the class brain, Rufus the policeman’s son and Geoffrey, whose father is very rich.

Back home, there’s Nicholas’s father, who thinks he is in charge of the house, but it often seems like the real brains of the place belong to Nicholas’ long-suffering mother. He has a granny who visits and turns things upside down, much to Nicholas’s delight.

By now you may be thinking — wait a minute! What’s so special about all this? There’s no magic, no dragons, no adventures, no ghosts or witches or spacemen or anything — what makes these Nicholas books so great? And that’s the whole point — Nicholas is just a regular boy and he and his friends go through all the regular situations we’ve all been through. What makes the stories enjoyable is the way the absurdity hidden in our everyday lives is brought out. It’s just the usual sort of thing that happens to us all — a seaside vacation, a friend who has a brother in the army, a piece of chalk stolen from the teacher, just regular everyday incidents.

But the way each character reacts and the way these things lead to one thing after the other are what make these stories so delightful.

And there are things here that maybe will show a newer generation some of the ways in which life was different in the 1950s, when these stories were different — no mobile phones or video games, for instance. Teachers making students write a 100 lines as punishment, men smoking cigars all over the place, violent punch-ups between young schoolboys being commonplace.

And then again, maybe most of the basics of friendship, anger, greed, laughter and high sprits haven’t really changed all that much.

Oh, did I mention these stories were written by Rene Goscinny, the man who wrote the classic Asterix comics? Those books had a lot of humour in them too, and a lot of it was either slapstick or just the humour of everyday life. You’ll see the same sort of thing in these books, and the illustrations by Jean-Jacques Sempe help emphasise the lively, good-natured fun to be had with the Nicholas books.

All in all these are pleasant, amusing little books, which are ideal for a lazy Sunday afternoon. There are five  books in the series, but each one contains about a dozen shorter stories and you can read them all in any order you like. Happy reading, and watch out for Cuthbert — he’s a bit of a snitch!


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