Sunday, September 03, 2006

Carl's favorite French music

Okay, so my nephew's not quite old enough to express his musical preferences. Suffice it to say that he doesn't make faces when I play the following albums for him:

Mes Chansons Préférées: a two-CD set with cheerful renditions of French children's songs. Includes "Bonhomme, bonhomme" (a song about musical instruments), "Le petit matelot" (about a drowned sailor), the ABC song, "J'ai du bon tabac" (about, strangely enough, high-quality tobacco that the singer refuses to share with the listener), and the lovely Québecois song "À la claire fontaine." Available at

Also from Kidzup, another two-CD set called Les Plus Belles Chansons Pour Enfants, this one with more songs that I recognize as traditional: "Frère Jacques," "Savez-vous planter les choux," "Alouette," "Au clair de la lune," and the one song that always brings a smile to Carl's face and can sometimes even get him to stop crying, "Sur le pont d'Avignon."

And one final recommendation from Kidzup: Mes Comptines. Comptines are basically nursery rhymes, many with fingerplays associated with them. This CD puts them to music, or at least to a rhythm (not all have melodies, which is fine, because they're not supposed to be songs). For example, there's "Frotte, frotte ton savon/Il y a des bulles jusqu'au plafond" (Rub, rub your soap/There's bubbles all the way to the ceiling) done almost like a rap; a conversation between a child and the moon (titled simply "Dialogue" and just read by the singers); "Une sorcière en colère" (about an angry witch who gets caught in a mousetrap) recited like a dramatic monologue; and plenty more. Most of these comptines were new to me--I wish I knew the gestures that went along with them.

(Note: Kidzup is a company out of Québec, which means that the singers have Canadian accents to their French and the songs use occasional terms that are more popular in Canadian French than standard French, such as "un melon d'eau" instead of "une pastèque" for "watermelon.")

UniVerse of Song (sung by Jean Réné and a group of occasionally off-key enthusiastic children) consists of a handful of traditional French children's songs (like "Frère Jacques" and "Sur le pont d'Avignon") and many children's songs in English (like "This Old Man" and "The Wheels on the Bus" and "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain") which are sung in both English and French, alternating verses. Some of the latter just sound very silly in French (as does some of the patter among the kids between each song--"Go wake up your brother!" "Okay. John, John, wake up!"). Worst of all, they have bowdlerized "Alouette": instead of "Je te plumerai la tête" (I will pluck off your head), they sing "Je t'admirerai la tête" (I will admire your head). Granted, it's a gruesome song--but they could have just left it off the CD in lieu of offering this lame version.

Muriel's World: French Songs for Children vol. 1 are gentle original songs by Muriel Vergnaud. (There's no Volume 2 yet.) It's a more calming album than the ones mentioned above, and the songs were written to use in French foreign language classes for young children. I tend to play this one during Carl's naptime. Muriel, whom I met at a teachers' conference, has also provided me with a written description of activities to do with the songs (such as movement, puppets, and more) plus suggestions of how to adapt the songs to teach other vocabulary or concepts, so when Carl's older, we can really interact with these songs.

Finally, while it's a little early for Christmas, I don't have that many French children's CDs, so I've also played Joyeux Noel: Sing Along and Learn Carols in French from Teach Me Tapes. Some of these are traditional French holiday songs, like "Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle," "Il est né, le divin enfant," and "Petit Papa Noel," while others are translations of songs in English ("Boules de gui" is "Deck the Halls,""L'enfant au tambour" is "The Little Drummer Boy"), although for all I know they've existed or even originated in French.

Carl and I also listen to some non-children's CDs in French, like Francis Cabrel, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Amadou and Miriam, and Paris Combo. (They're harder for me to sing along with, though.)

All of the CDs listed here include the lyrics in the CD booklets, fortunately! The companies also sell other CDs and materials for kids. (Click here to see descriptions of several other places to buy stuff.)In fact, in between large bookstores, teachers' conferences, and online searches, I have found hundreds of books and CDs and DVDs aimed at Anglophone children learning French. While I had hoped to review lots of them on this blog, I'll never manage to look at half of them! But little by little I'll share the ones I buy or borrow and like. Please let me know if you have some to recommend.


  1. that's so cool you are teaching your dear nephew french! We might do that some day...

  2. Just found one more French CD for kids at the library: Putmayo Kids Presents French Playground. It consists of 12 songs from around the francophone world in different genres, with lyrics (and their English translations) included. Good stuff.