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Happy Birthday, Jean de Brunhoff!

The inspiration for Babar came in 1930, when wife Cecile improvised a story about an elephant to entertain their son, Matthieu, who was ill. Brunhoff then expanded it into a full-fledged book, Historie de Babar, le petit elephant. The book met instant success upon publication in 1931, and shortly after was translated into English as The Story of Babar the Little Elephant. Brunhoff found success with five more Babar stories before his untimely death in 1937. Son Laurent went on to contribute to the series, penning over 50 of his own Babar adventures.

Fans and reviewers have praised Jean Brunhoff’s expressive yet simplified drawings, charming narration, and inventive use of the double-page spread. Children’s book creator Maurice Sendak wrote of Babar’s legacy:

Babar is at the very heart of my conception of what turns a picture book into a work of art.… Beneath the pure fun, the originality of style, and the vivacity of imagination is a serious and touching theme: a father writing to his sons and voicing his natural concern for their welfare, for their lives … Jean’s bequest to his family, and the world, shines from the books.

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