Blogger “In Your Shoes” posted a story this week about childhood visits to the library. Reading the post stirred my memories of the tiny colonial period house that served as the library in the small town where I grew up.
When I was six, my favorite library book was Caroline and Her Friends. Then came Caroline at the Ranch, Caroline Goes to Sea, Caroline in Europe, Caroline’s Grand Tour, and Caroline’s Winter Holiday. Pierre Probst, the author (1913-2007), was an advertising illustrator by trade and modeled Caroline after his daughter. The books were originally published in French and later translated to English, Japanese and other languages.
Caroline was my first idol. She wore jumpers and trousers. Growing up as a girl in the 1960’s, I was not allowed to wear long pants. With the independence of an adult, Caroline traveled to exotic places- India, Egypt and Europe-, escorted by her entourage of fury pals. I did not travel outside of my small town until I was eight. She didn’t play with dolls. Guess what I got for Christmas and birthdays every year?
As with most children’s books, the story line was simple. It was Mr. Probst’s illustrations that popped the stories to life a la Toy Story. His images gave the animals human characteristics and mannerisms. And like young children, Caroline’s friends were always getting into trouble.
I spent hours with my younger sisters looking at the funny illustrations of the escapades of the critter cast. There was Rusty, Bobby, and Mops y (puppies); Puff and Inky (kittens); Bruno, a bear cub; Leon, a lion cub; and Spot, a leopard cub. My favorite was Inky because he was the one who got into the most trouble.
Some believe the themes in Mr. Probst’s books were ahead of their time. Did he use children’s books to look at issues like female equality and animal rights? Publishing in the 1950’s, the author conveyed young Caroline as independent and adventurous. The animals are presented as “friends” and not pets. These were simple ideas but important ones.
American English versions of these books are difficult to find. However, you can easily find new French versions on Amazon at reasonable rates. I am calling on all publishers to pick up the banner and bring Caroline and Her Friends to 21st Century youngsters. This 20th Century youngster would love to read them again, too!