Friday, March 29, 2013

noel in septembre

It was like the best "secret Santa" exchange ever, except that we knew what each other's plan was and it was autumn*, not Christmas time!

Last summer, I "met" another Sarah who grew up in Denver, Colorado--not far from where we live--when she emailed me to say that as a longtime reader of my blog and now a permanent resident of Paris (complete with French husband and cute little boy), she would be happy to bring us some books from France during her upcoming trip to Colorado!!!

She even asked what we needed, which meant that we now have lots of nonfiction books in French--I had realized that as Griffin turned from a toddler into a preschooler, his incessant "why"s were getting harder and harder for me to answer in French.  I mean, it's already a challenge to explain cavemen, cavities, and chemistry to a four-year-old in your native language--try doing it in your somewhat rusty French--especially when you've never before had to discuss such topics in French!  (Yeah, for some reason, when I was living in France in my early twenties, it never occurred to me to remind my friends of the importance of brushing their teeth; nor when I was teaching first- and second-year French classes at the university did I ever have to explain why Pluto is no longer considered a planet.)

Note to self: You really need to do more recreational reading in French.  Yes, you.  You know that's the best way to acquire new vocabulary and structures!

Anyway, in September, Sarah brought me a whole suitcase of books for Griffin and Gwyneth, and I am so incredibly grateful.

just a fraction of the bounty from France!
Plus, her gift meant that I have been able to use my library powers for good: as an employee, I can look at the library's discards and donations for our used book sales before they open to the public.  Before Sarah's visit, I went through a roomful of books and picked out ones that I thought would be welcome additions to her son's English language collection back in Paris.

And oh, was that ever fun for me!  I ruled out the classics like Goodnight Moon and Green Eggs and Ham, figuring that it was likely that they had a lot of those already, in favor of picture books that are perhaps less well known but still very, very good.  I bought mostly paperbacks (since she'd have to schlep them all back to France in the suitcase she had emptied for me) storybooks (since her son is a toddler) in good condition (since I had first dibs at the ones for sale), plus some that dealt with elements of American culture (like Thanksgiving and Colorado).

I loved our book exchange, and ever since we met last year, I have continued to collect wonderful books for her little boy!  Now that my son is in preschool, we do the Scholastic Book Club (you know, where you order inexpensive editions of good children's books which are delivered directly to the classroom), and each order we make has a book or two for our new friends in Paris.  Those, plus the used books and CDs that I have been finding and setting aside for them, will hopefully mean that he'll always have a good story in English at his fingertips.

Thank you so very, very much, Sarah!

I heartily encourage the rest of you to set up similar book exchanges to supplement your family's minority language book collection--perhaps through discussion forums on well-established websites like Multilingual Living or newer ones like Non-native Speaking Parents, or via contacts you make on a listserv for parents or teachers?  Please share your ideas here!

*Yes, this wondrous event took place in September 2012, and I'm just now getting around to writing about it in March 2013.


  1. This is a brilliant idea. I wish I could do that for Portuguese... off to find someone to help out.

    1. Annabelle, do you need Portuguese material? I can help you with this. I'm from Brazil. We can do this on . Register yourself there and add me as a friend.

    2. Yay! This is exactly the sort of thing that I want to happen, especially for those of us using our non-native language in a place where it's expensive to order materials in that language.

  2. This is awesome. We can surely do this on nnsparents.

    1. My next post will be about!

    2. Thank you Sarah. And also on nnsparents I started a topic about tutoring kids with Skype. The idea is: people can talk and read in their native language to children of a friend from nnsparents using Skype. I think this can also help us a lot.

  3. Hi! I'm an elementary school French teacher in Louisiana. Like you, I'm a non-native French speaker, and I'm (making an attempt at) only speaking to my now 14-month-old daughter in French. After about a year, my husband, sister, and mother have begun to pick up on some of the French I use with my Lily, which is interesting to see.

    I've been reading your blog since I got pregnant and decided to try out this bilingual baby adventure, but this is my first time commenting.

    You mention the Scholastic book club. I actually use Scholastic Canada's Club de Lecture to get books for my little one and to replenish my classroom shelves for my students. She's got shelves of French children's books, and she sits and points and babbles away while "reading" them. As I'm sure you have already found out, is a great resource.

    My daughter's newest thing is hand motions. She likes to point to her tete and her bouche when I ask. She likes to blow plein de bisous, and she loves to clap. I don't know many French children's songs, and I'm hoping you can point me to some that include hand motions... similar to Itsy Bitsy Spider but French. Someone we met once sang to her a song that had something to with a moulin and had hand motions, but I don't know it. I thought you may have some resources for this.


    1. Bonjour bonjour bonjour, Elise! Thank you so much for your comments and questions--I hope you'll forgive my delay in replying (and come back often). Bravo for you for using your non-native French with Lily! Your background as an elementary school French teacher--and the fact that you live in a state where some people actually speak French on a daily basis--must provide such a boost, and it sounds like your family is very supportive of your efforts.

      (Sometimes my hubby and I joke that he ought to join a "support group" for monolingual anglophone parents married to francophiles! Does your husband ever feel left out too?)

      Have you ever attended an AATF (American Association of Teachers of French) convention? There are rarely sessions for teachers of very young learners, but I still love going every few years. The 2014 one is in New Orleans and I so hope to go!

      Thanks for the reminder about Actually, I have never figured out how to buy their books in French as an individual in the US, and once I tried to place an online order when I bought some through our account with Griffin's class, but failed. Can you help?

      As far as songs and comptines and fingerplays go, I'll refer you to Sarah in Paris (see comment below) and add my thoughts after her comments.

  4. Elise: Just a quick reply about the children's song you mention. I think you mean "Tourne, tourne, petit moulin". My kids' favorite music video of this song happens to show a convenient mix of the hand motions and illustrations of the lyrics. A French parenting magazine has it available for viewing along with several of the other songs from the same DVD on its website. I hope it's OK if I post a fairly commercial link here!

    If you're looking for other "comptines à mimer" (songs with hand motions), off the top of my head I can think of "L'araignee Gypsie" (= "Itsy Bitsy Spider"), "Vole vole vole, papillon", "Les petites marionettes", "Jean Petit qui danse", "Le grand cerf" (="Little cabin in the woods" in English)... Lots can be seen or heard on Yo*tube if you can't get a CD such as "C*mptines à mimer et jeux de doigts", which is as far as I recall the title of the one I've seen in stores.
    --another Sarah, in France

    1. Just thought of more gesture song to add that one might sing with a 14-mo-old: you can do the "Head, shoulders, knees and toes" song in French. Maybe somebody has actually published a French version somewhere but I just adapted the words as well as I could for my little ones: "Tête, épaules, genoux et pieds... Les yeux, oreilles et bouche et nez..."
      --the other Sarah again :-)

    2. That is exactly how we do the song too--so "pieds" rhymes with "nez"!

    3. Thank you so much, Sarah--those are fantastic suggestions, and I like the website as well!

      I love, love, love "Comptines a mimer et jeux de doigts," and so does Griffin. The illustrations are cute, the rhymes are numerous, the explanations of the hand motions are useful, and the included CD is catchy. It's definitely worth ordering from Canada or France and paying the shipping (and perhaps is available in the States as well).

      I also like bounce-the-baby-on-your-knee horsey rhymes like "A Paris, a Paris, sur mon petit cheval gris"; "Savez-vous planter les choux"; "Beau front" (in which you touch parts of baby's face and then tickle her); and probably lots more that I can't think of at this moment.

      I should do a post about my favorite comptines, but in the meantime, check out some of these resources:

      (previous posts about comptines)

      Mama Lisa:

      Bonne Maman's recommendations:

      And I'm also putting some together on Pinterest too--stay tuned!

  5. Hi Sarah, as always, a wonderfully informative post with great ideas. I'm sorry to give you more work, but when you have a chance, would you mind posting (some of) the titles of the French books you've shown in the picture? I am a non-native (intermediate level) French speaker and I speak to my toddler exclusively in French. He has begun to ask many questions about the world around him to which I struggle to explain in French. I'd love to buy him French books that would help us, but I don't know where to start. Thanks for a super blog. I look forward to hearing about your kids' journey as they grow (and into their multiple languages) :) Ciao, Gail

  6. I was brought up bilingual (English and German)and reading books in German really made a big difference. When I was a kid my German relatives would send us Disney comics in German. That was a fantastic way to learn the language because it was fun, not work.

    Actually on reading this blog I wish we'd had some French in our family as well, would have been nice to have been brought up trilingual :-)