An enjoyable and enriching way to learn a language is to dive into a great book and place yourself in another world. If reading page after page of text isn’t your thing (or if you like to mix things up), comic books are another wonderful resource with colorful visuals and punchy language. Our experts here at Babbel have found you the best books to learn French, whether you’ve just started practicing or are looking for a challenge. Here’s what makes the cut:
1. Le Petit Prince
What better way to start our list of books to learn French than with Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). There’s a good reason this French literature classic written by Antoine de Saint Exupéry is renowned worldwide. The novel tells the story of a young boy who goes on profound adventures as he travels the universe. A rich subtext lets you observe humanity’s flaws and the many peculiarities of the world.
It’s a short and pleasant read, so those at a beginner or intermediate level will find it a beneficial resource. A few tricky vocabulary words and the use of the le passé simple tense (which isn’t heard in spoken French) make for good challenges. For further listening practice, you can also enjoy the novel as an audiobook, play, TV show or movie.
2. Le Petit Nicolas
The classic children’s series, Le Petit Nicolas, might include some of the best books to learn French for beginners. Written by René Goscinny and charmingly illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé, the books are narrated from the point of view of young Nicolas as he lives out an idyllic childhood in 1950s France.
Each book is rampant with humor and is a great way for beginner to intermediate learners to discover quintessential French culture. They’re short and fun reads, with a few sentences that may challenge you with the casual communication of the child narrator. If you enjoy the series, check out the adapted movie, Les Vacances du Petit Nicolas, for more practice (and laughs!).
3. Arsène Lupin, Gentleman cambrioleur
Arsène Lupin, Gentleman cambrioleur, the crime fiction book by Maurice Leblanc, recounts the adventures of the thief Arsène Lupin throughout a series of short stories.
The book is entertaining and easy to read, so it’s suited for both beginner and intermediate learners. The vocabulary describing people and concepts related to justice, as well as grammar skills like present tense, time adverbs and adjective agreement, all offer lots of opportunities to test your skills.
4. Astérix et Obélix
Astérix et Obélix, created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo in the late 1950s, is one of the most popular Franco-Belgian comic series in the world. The stories record the adventures of two protagonists, Astérix and Obélix, who both hail from a village in Gaul (present-day France, Belgium, Luxembourg and other parts of Western Europe).
As you may have guessed, the comics are heavy in French humor, which will help beginner and intermediate learners understand French style and colloquial phrases, as well as social criticism. Any list of best books for learning French would be incomplete without this selection!
This timeless Belgium comic series set during the 20th century was created by Belgium artist, Georges Remi, who goes by the pen name Hergé. The story revolves around a young reporter, Tintin, who embarks on adventures to solve crimes with the help of his trusty dog, Snowy.
The fantastic drawings, wit and socio-political commentary make for a visually engaging and appetizing read. These comics are very helpful for those learning French at a beginner or intermediate level.
6. L’élégance du hérisson
L’élégance du hérisson is an easy-reading novel by French author and philosophy professor, Muriel Barbery. Her teaching discipline is prevalent throughout the book’s story. Themes relating to art, philosophy, class consciousness and personal conflict are presented through the lens of the two narrators, Renée and Paloma.
For beginner and intermediate learners, this book to learn French is helpful for picking up vocabulary and grammar. You’ll find examples of descriptive adjectives, relative pronouns and vivid vocabulary used for describing people. You can also watch the movie adaptation to reinforce the language and story.
7. Le chat du rabbin
Le chat du rabbin (The Rabbi’s Cat) is a comic book that tells the story of a cat who acquires a voice after swallowing a rabbi’s parrot. The plot follows the lessons he learns from the same rabbi.
Taking place in a Jewish community in colonized Algeria during the 1920s, this comic by Joann Sfar offers an original story and sense of discovery for those looking to learn about a French colonial society. This book is particularly suitable for beginner to intermediate learners.
8. Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran
We close our list of best books to learn French with Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran (Mr. Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran). This novel by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt was originally written as a French play about the life of Schmitt’s friend, Bruno Abraham Kremer. It shows the history of a young Jewish boy and a Muslim grocer living in a neighborhood in Paris.
Religion inevitably plays an important role in the book, though Schmitt didn’t want it to override the essence of the plot surrounding the characters. Those at a beginner and intermediate level will find this an excellent book to familiarize themselves with French words related to religion.