Max and Lili are one of the most popular series of French books for children between the ages of 6 and 12.

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As a British native, I had never heard of Max and Lili until my eldest daughter started talking about them in earnest in her second year of elementary school (i.e. around the age of 7). Max has done that, she’d say with a knowing look, or that happened to Lili, she’d explain, nodding wisely. I hadn’t a clue who she was talking about until I stumbled across these small, hard-backed comic books with their recognizable drawings by a famous French artist, Serge Bloch.

Am I surprised to hear that these books are the most frequently borrowed children’s books from Parisian libraries (and most other libraries in the rest of France)? Probably, if I’m honest. Then again, knowing French culture as I do, I can see their appeal. They are also small enough to fit into a school bag or on a bookshelf and they are easy to understand for early readers.

How can the success of these French books for children be explained?

The Max and Lili collection is almost as famous as the Eiffel Tower amongst parents with school-age children. They were created in the early 90’s and there are approximately 100 in the collection to date. How can the success of these small comic-style books be explained? For the marketers, it is certainly the low price and small format. At approximately 5 euros, it is easy to start collecting. The other reason for their success is the fact that the themes reflect real-life situations.

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Indeed the author, the French sociologist Dominique de Saint Mars first had the idea to help children resolve their problems. Initially she met with scepticism when editors told her that “books about problems” would never work. How wrong they were! When I asked my daughter which book was her favourite, she took a long time deciding. Was it “Lili watches too much TV”, “Max is sulking” or “Lili invites a friend on holiday” … In the end she plumped for “Lili invites a friend on holiday” because (and I quote) “I would like to invite a friend on holiday and this book helps me imagine it”.

As a parent, I was a little dubious when she wanted to add “Max and Lili’s uncle is in prison”, “Lili has been followed”, Max and Lili’s house has been burgled” and “Emilie doesn’t like it when her mum drinks too much” to the collection at the tender age of seven. What does she drink too much of? I asked. It must be tea, she hesitated. That makes sense. Must be an English mum.

 Which French books for children do you have in your kids’ collection? 

Originally posted 2015-04-22 17:00:34.