Les Pyjamasques: A Sneaky Way to Get Your Children Interested in Learning French by Leslie Van Zee

Do you have a child who loves to watch the popular animated series PJ Masks? When you visit the library, does your child insist on checking out the PJ Masks picture books, every time? You know what I’m talking about–those small, thin, paperback books that take words and pictures directly from the TV series.

There are a lot of books like that-that were created from a popular children’s television series. But! What if I told you that in the case of PJ Masks, it was the TV series that came from books? No, not the paperbacks I mentioned earlier, but rather, a French book series called Les Pyjamasques. I didn’t know that, you might be thinking. Neither did I, until children’s author Leslie Van Zee shared that interesting bit of info with me. And now, Leslie is here to share more about Les Pyjamasques with you.

Les Pyjamasques: A Sneaky Way to Get Your Children Interested in Learning French

by Leslie Van Zee

Hello, fellow Frog on a Blog Readers! As both an aspiring children’s author and a mom of two preschoolers, I’m an avid fan of picture books. But I also am a working mom, and I confess that my kids get a big dose of video time in addition to reading time.

To assuage my parental guilt over this, I try to at least monitor the programs they are consuming. In doing so I end up getting attached to some of the programs almost as much as my kids do. One of the series that we like in our house is the PJ Masks.

For those who aren’t familiar with them, the PJ Masks are a trio of preschool-aged children who acquire superpowers when they don their special pajamas. Then they go out into the night to thwart the plans of their mischievous arch-rivals.

My kids, ages 5 and 3, love the series. That said, I still would much rather have my little ones reading books, so I went looking to see if there were any picture books based on the series.

Lo and behold, the show is actually based on a series of picture books called Les Pyjamasques that have been popular in France for more than a decade.

Created by author-illustrator Romuald Racioppo, there are 25 books in the series, starting with Les Pyjamasques et le Grogarou (2007) and going all the way up to Les Pyjamasques et la momie d’Apophis, Tome II (2019).

All of the characters in the tv series are drawn from characters in the books, though the names are a little different. The main protagonists are:

  • Connor/Catboy from the tv series is known in the books as Yoyo by night.
  • Greg/Gekko is known as Gluglu by night.
  • Amaya/Owlette is known as Bibou by night, and in the earliest stories was actually a boy.

It is a shame that none of the Les Pyjamasques books have been translated into English, because they really are delightful. The illustrations are rich and full of detail and energy – much more painterly and organic in style than the cartoon series. The plots of each book are far less formulaic as well, and as a result share much more imaginative scenes and scenarios.

I also like that in the books the line between good and bad is more fluid. For example, in one story the Pyjamasques try to stop a gang of archrivals from breaking into a candy machine but then decide that they also want to eat candy and end up sharing the candy all together. I can’t help but adore these little quirks of realism. Yes, it’s good to encourage good morals and teamwork, but the tv series sometimes gets a little preachy about it.

To give you an idea of what the books are like, here is a review of the third book, Les Pyjamasques et Lilifée. Having since read all of the books online, I think this is a good representative of the series.

Synopsis:

It’s a snowy night and a fairy-like creature named Lilifée is descending from the sky to make artistic creations with snow. 

She is dainty and cultured, in contrast to the boisterous capers of the three masked little boys who intrude upon her scene.

Who are these masked acrobats of the night? They are Les Pyjamasques: Bibou, Gluglu and Yoyo (who are all three boys in the earliest books).

They are all captivated by her beauty and start vying for her attention. When their antics and one upmanship send a volley of snowballs at Lillifee’s snowman, it comes to life and climbs out of the snowbank to chase them.

Being Lillifee’s creation, however, the snowman is not as dangerous as he looks and just wants to present her with a lovely snow flower. This is the right way to win her favor, the Pyjamasques learn.

My thoughts:

As with all the books, there are some very imaginative concepts here. I like the fact that Lilifée’s snowman is a copy of one of the giant head statues from Easter Island, and that the whole body is underneath it in the snow. The characters are very engaging, one can’t help but smile at their antics. The plot is well-paced for 3- to 5-year-olds, and the little twist at the end is very cute.

I’m not at all fluent in French, so I can’t speak much to the quality of Romuald’s prose. But it strikes me as very authentically French, such as in little details like Lilifée dismissing the Pyjamasque’s snowmen as works of bad taste.

I would encourage even non-French-fluent parents to consider hunting down a copy of one of these books. It is a great way to give your kids some exposure to a foreign language.

I have probably an intermediate-level understanding of French, and with that and handy Google Translate, I am able to figure out the gist of things well enough to satisfy my little ones, as evidenced by regular requests for these books at bedtime.

If you are interested in learning more about this series, there is a great deal of info collected in a wiki here at Fandom.com. You can order the books via Amazon.fr or from the publisher’s website: Gallimard-Jeunesse.

 

Leslie Van Zee is a mom, children’s author and former euphoniumist who lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay area. By day she develops corporate communications designed to resonate with grown up audiences, and by night she crafts stories to settle her kids in to bed that often get them too wound up to sleep. She loves fusion jazz, podcasts, and singing silly songs while doing housework. Visit her blog stories.leslievanzee.com for more book reviews, original stories and thoughts on balancing work and parenting.

Thank you for stopping by, Leslie! This was so interesting, and I especially like the original illustrations by Romuald Racioppo. Lovely!

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