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Laurent de Brunhoff, heir of the ‘Babar’ saga

By AFP - Mar 26,2024 - Last updated at Mar 26,2024

PARIS — French author and illustrator Laurent de Brunhoff, who died on Friday at the age of 98 according to US media, successfully continued the adventures of the affable elephant “Babar” — first imagined as a bedtime story by his mother, before being turned into a beloved children’s character.

Cecile de Brunhoff used to tell her two sons Laurent and Mathieu the story of a little elephant who fled to Paris after its mother was killed, learned to live among humans, and then returned to the forest to marry and become king.

His father Jean de Brunhoff, a painter, was enraptured by Cecile’s story and turned it into a children’s book first published in 1931.

“In the big forest, a little elephant was born. His name is Babar,” he wrote under a drawing, unaware of the incredible destiny that awaited the elephant in a green suit.

The books — around twenty written by Laurent and seven by his father — have since sold millions of copies, especially in the United States, and have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

“There were very few books for children then. My father’s imagination and poetry were as was his way of drawing, neither stylised nor realistic”, Laurent explained 40 years later.

He was 12 years old when Jean died of tuberculosis in 1937, with his uncle Michel, who directed the French edition of Vogue, taking over the “Babar” enterprise.

At 21, he began to pen the life of his childhood elephant, starting with “Babar’s cousin: that rascal Arthur”.

“Continuing Babar was prolonging my father’s life,” he said.

His mother lived till the age of 99.


Favourite of generations 


Born on August 30, 1925, in Paris, Laurent studied painting.

He had always been drawn to his father’s paintings of Babar at their family home in the Chessy neighbourhood.

He stayed faithful to his father’s depictions, favouring the explosions of colour and large format. Children’s books had until then been printed in a smaller format.

His work on “Babar” saw the elephant adorn over 500 different objects, from bedsheets to backpacks to wallpaper.

The character became a favourite for an entire generation of children, and was the focus of several exhibitions.

Today, Babar’s saga continues, with the introduction of Badou, the elephant’s grandson.

Laurent settled in the United States and married the American author Phyllis Rose.

She had posted on Instagram on Wednesday that he had recently suffered a stroke and was in hospice care at home in Key West, Florida.

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