Thursday, February 21, 2013

Les Malheurs de Sophie - The Books

In my previous post I wrote about the movie Les Malheurs de Sophie.  It was based on the famous novel written by La Comtesse de Ségur, a Russian aristocrat who married a Frenchman and later on wrote many novels in French dedicated to her grand-children (after whom she named all her book characters).

Photo Credit : Comtesse de Segur
The novel was first published in 1858 by Hachette with illustrations by Horace Castelli.  The adventures of Sophie is her most famous novel and is actually followed by 2 other books, forming a trilogy: Les Petites Filles Modèles (1858), and Les Vacances (1859).

Photo Credit : Library Mice
In French:
Volume 3 - Les Vacances
In English (translation by Stephanie Smee):
The English books are sold in Australia (but available worlwide via Booktopia) but I have not read them so I can't give you a review about them. But if you can't read French at all, they are the only English translation available to my knowledge. Please let me know if you find another version!

Photo Credit : Booktopia
The second book focuses on Camille and Madeleine but Sophie is still there. This novels introduces a new character, the little Marguerite, who is befriended by Camille and Madeleine and butts head with Sophie.  There is such a great camaderie among the characters and their adventures are riveting!  SPOILER: The story gets very sad at times though because Sophie is mistreated by her stepmother and I remember crying very much because the poor little girl was so unloved.

Photo Credit : Booktopia
The last novel in the trilogy is probably one of the best book I have read as a child.  There are many more characters added to the novel by now and our little girls have grown since the last two books.  If there could be a perfect summer vacation, this would be it.  It's like the tale of a summer camp vacation filled with adventures but set in the 19th century, in a French Castle.  It is really an amazing ending to the serie and it gave me a lasting impression of the story.

There have been many editions of this book and the two sequels, including a comic book version.  Other books from La Comtesse de Ségur are also available in that format.

Photo Credit : Amazon FR
I am fond of the Casterman edition with illustrations by Jobbé-Duval. But  I also like very much the  drawings by Castelli for the Collection from La Bibliothèque Rose, a book collection created by the publishing house Hachette for children from 6 to 12 years old.  There is a new collection by Hachette with new illustations by Iris de Moüy.

Another publisher house, FLEURUS, has launched a new edition of  Les Malheurs de Sophie in September 2012!  The illustrations are from Ariane Delrieu and they are absolutely fabulous! You can check her WEBSITE to see a glimpse of her art!

Photo Credit : Fleurus Editions
All the French books from the Countess are available online WikiSource La Bibliothèque Libre, but I would definitely recommend buying the paper version, not just because I am old school but because the pictures are half the fun!

Below are the links to the trilogy:

Volume 3 - Les Vacances

Warning: The stories of La Comtesse de Ségur often include physical punishments and sometimes very serious violent abuse of children so one should be aware of this before letting their children read the novels.  I personally loved the books because it depicted in great detail an era that was totally different from mine and that is the magic I think the books still convey.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Les Malheurs de Sophie - The Movie

I am so excited to blog about this topic!  I am a big fan of the stories written by La Comtesse de Ségur.  I have read them when I was a kid and I still re-read them today.

Her most famous novel is probably Les Malheurs de Sophie which was published in 1859 and is about the story of a mischievious little girl named Sophie de Réan and her life with her cousin Paul and her two friends, Camille and Madeleine (who are featured in the book Les Petites Filles Modèles).  However, Sophie is far from perfect and the accounts of her adventures were sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always very touching and memorable.

The success of the novel is such that there have been many editions and re-editions.  I am particularly fond of the Casterman collection of novels from the Comtesse de Ségur.  There have been 2 movies based on the book : a 1946 black and white movie and a 1979 in color. 

The latter one is the one I watched as a kid when it aired on TV. I can't tell you how much I loved that movie!   It was produced by the late Jean-Claude Brialy, who was also a famous French actor.  He first became well known for his acting in the French New Wave films and with many more movies afterward.  I have been looking everywhere for that movie but could not find anything.... until it was finally issued in DVD format in 2011!!!

I clicked on that purchase button quicker than you can say Yippee!  I remember fondly the movie theme song by Chanta Goya and the video below shows a few scenes from the movie as well.

I have viewed it a few times now and I must say it has not lost its charm.  I still love seeing the characters come to life, the beautiful costumes (HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE THOSE DRESSES!) and the darling little actors playing Sophie and Paul. 

The movie follows closely the book story but out of the 21 chapters of the book, only 9 are acted out in the movie.  I don't mind so much because the movie would be much too long otherwise. But it would have been nice to see a sequel to feature the remaining chapters!

The image quality is not super crisp compared to what we are used to nowadays but it is not awful either.  The sound not so-so. I had to crank up the volume to hear the conversation.  It is especially annoying since there are no option for subtitles or dubbing. It is very unfortunate because I wished I could show this movie to the non-French-speaking children.  They still liked to watch it and were curious about the costumes and laughed at Sophie's mischiefs.
But I have one major complaint: they CUT OUT SOME SCENES! And it wasn't just any scenes but one important one : the argument Sophie had with Madeleine and Camille that lead her to wet her hair.  The DVD only shows the scene when Sophie got all wet which made no sense at all!   A few other scenes were cut as well such as the part preceding the picnic at the end, which was really annoying because once again the story made no sense when they cut out scenes like that!

So I am irked by this major flaw but I still love the movie and after years of waiting I would still recommend people to buy it because no other movies are like this one! The details in the costumes, castle life, servants interaction and everything else made it worth to watch over again and again.

There is also a cartoon version of Sophie's adventures but they are in French as well.
If you want to find out about what happens to Sophie, I recommend reading the books which I will write about in the next post.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mes plus belles histoires

My darling friend Laura from Formule Blonde sent me a beautiful French book last week: Mes plus belles histoires du soir (Editions Pierre de Soleil).  There are 42 stories in total, separated in two sections : 1) fairy tales 2) bed time stories.
Illustration by Anja Klauss
The book is filled with beautiful color drawings by different illustrators. You have the classic fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the bean stalk, Rapunzel, etc, but also other tales that I rarely see in children's story books like Tristan and Iseult.

Illustration by Anja Klauss
I love that there are so many color illustrations! They fill the whole page or half a page for each story.  The kids were very inspired by the pictures and started drawing after each story telling.  This is a big book so the size of the illustration is huge!
Illustration by Lucile Limont
She stories are short (1 to 3 pages maximum) and they are well written.  But Remember it's an adaptation (aimed for kids) of famous tales . If you are a purist and want the complete non-abridged version of each tale, look away; this book is not for you!  I think it is the perfect adaptation for small children whose attention span won't last 20 pages or more.

Illustration by Olivier Huette
It was nice reading in French to my boy and explaining to him the vocabulary.  The kids also loved the illustrations!!! Last night we read the story of the Wolf and the 7 kids and we had much fun trying to find their hiding spots in the house.

Illustration by Olivier Huette
Also, many stories were new to me so it is a pleasure to read and discover new tales!  Thank you darling Laura for such a thoughtful and sweet present! ♥
Illustration by Nicolas Duffaut

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Photo Credit: Heidi's Land
When I was a little girl (that seems like eons ago now) I used to watch Heidi, a Swiss TV serie based on the novel HEIDI by Swiss writer Johanna Spyri. Oh how I waited impatiently for each episode and nearly cried when the story ended! Mrs. Spyri created very friendly characters and you couldn't help but fall in love with them!

Photo Credit : Renaud Bray

I have ready the French Version only but I would like to read the English version as well and this one seems to have great watercolor illustrations from Maja Dusikova!

Photo Credit : Austria Forum

Her illustrated book is available in English, French and German as well.

Photo Credit : North South

Edit: Leanne who has a website dedicated to Vintage Books for the VeryYoung has blogged about two vintage picture books about Heidi.  Thanks Leanne for letting me know! :)

The story is about Heidi, an orphan girl who lives with her Grandfather in the Alps. Heidi loves her life up in the mountain with her Grandfather, her friend Peter the goat herder and his blind Grandmother. They also become very attached to her.  But her aunt wants her to have a better education so she takes her to Frankfurt to be the friend to a rich but lonely and paralyzed young girl, Clara Sesemann.   The story is very heart-warming and the TV adaptation did a really great job in showcasing all the details that made this story so wonderful.

Photo Credit : Heidi's Land
There have been many cartoons and movies inspired by this novel and one of the most famous being the 1937 Heidi version with Shirley Temple.  There are other versions that I viewed but they did not really make a lasting impression on me.  Some were enjoyable but none gave me the same feeling I had with that TV serie from my childhood memories .
I longed to watch it again and I searched for a DVD version which I soon found on Amazon UK and Amazon FR!  I have seen the French version so I decided to get the Heidi French 12-DVD Complete Pack but because my nephews/nieces cannot speak French, I also bought the English dubbed version which is available in a two volume package : Heidi - Part 1 (with two DVDs) and Heidi - Part 2 (also with two DVDs).

Edit : To clarify about the English DVDs.

The entire TV serie are contained in those two DVD package. Each DVD has 2 discs containing 13 episodes for a total of 26 episodes and they are exactly like the TV format which means at the start of each episode you will see the opening sequence and at the end you will see the end credit.  Here below are the title of each episodes.

Volume 1:
  1. The Village
  2. Ohi of the Alps
  3. Peter the Goat Herder
  4. The Grandmother
  5. Winter
  6. The Departure
  7. Arrival in Frankfurt
  8. The Sesemann House
  9. A Trip
  10. Unrest in the Sesemann House
  11. A Cabinet Full of Rolls
  12. Herr Sesemann
  13. The Granmamma
Volume 2:
  1. Homesick
  2. The Ghost
  3. The Journey Home
  4. At Home Again
  5. Surprises
  6. The Reconciliation
  7. The Old Doctor
  8. A Visit From Frankfurt
  9. In the Winter House
  10. Clara Arrives
  11. The Wheelchair
  12. The Telegram
  13. Happy Ending

I don't have any complaints about the quality of the image although it is a bit grainy but taking into consideration that this was made in 1978 (No, I didn't watch it in 1978!), I think it is quite acceptable.  The English dubbing however is not my favorite.  The dubbing voices were good but they were difficult to understand at times and the voice volume too low compared to the background volume.  For example, you could hear very well the door creaking but their voices were hardly audible.  If you watched it in a house full of activity (like mine always is) then you might miss out on a lot.  Only if the house is very quiet can you hear clearly the conversation.
I showed the DVDs to the children and they did like it. It was a good occasion to teach them about how people lived back then, without a sink for the bathroom, without cars, etc.  I also had to explain a great deal about the german language because the characters would address to each other by saying "Herr", "Fräu" and "Fräulein"and say "Auf Wiedersehen", etc.
If you want to find out more about the TV serie, there is this wonderful website Heidi's Land which has tons of pictures (check out the MAKING OF section!), information and interesting biography concerning the actors.  The website is only in French though.

I wished more children could watch this because it is such a charming story and also because it makes them think about their own very comfortable life filled with materialistic belongings and they inevitably realize that true happiness does not lie in the amount of toys one has but rather in the strong bonds and relationships between your loved ones.