Its a story about a Prince. And a flower. And a sheep in a box. And the desert. And a boa constrictor eating an elephant. And about how grown-ups never understand anything without having it explained first. And about how things of consequence aren’t always as consequential as grown-ups may think.
Strange? Not really – read Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine Saint-Exupery and you’ll understand how all these seemly odd bits and pieces fit together. Its an easy read, longer than a story book but shorter than a chapter book. While it is probably utterly unintelligible for adults who are concerned with matters of consequence to a child – or the child at heart – it resonates as utterly true.
I remember my French professor reading us the first section. In our total submersion style class, he of course translated nothing for us. It was amusing to watch him miming a boa constrictor eating an elephant, while making elephant noises. That’s perhaps one of my favorite memories from college.
As a beginning French student (it was Spanish for me until that point), I certainly missed the finer nuances of the story, and probably even reading the English translation this time around left something of that natural flow and poetry of the French language by the way-side.
This is a story I would buy for my children, and read to them from the time they were old enough to sit still for it, until they were old enough to read it themselves. If I were a homeschool mom, we’d do book reports on it and make art projects about it and even write our own spin-off versions. We’d draw pictures of boa constrictors eating a wide variety of things, from the inside and the outside.
I would read this book by myself, to try to better understand the world in which children live and create.
Having read this, I’ll try to remember not to squash artistry out of someone, even when I don’t understand it. I’ll try to remember what its like to be a child – a difficult task for someone who’s mother claims she was born with the maturity of a 33-year-old. “Born 33,” she would say, and to this day I’m not sure if that was pride or disappointment in her voice.
Somewhere inside, however, there must be a memory of childhood, of sitting on a swing humming a made-up tune, or building floor plans with storybooks, or all those creative solutions I tried in order to repair my Barbie’s hair after she went swimming and it was full of chlorine.
The Little Prince comes from a planet no bigger than a house, with three volcanoes, two active and one inactive, and a very special flower. He travels the galaxy and meets some very silly grownups, who look very much like everyday sorts of grownups. And he ends up on Earth, in the desert with the author.
“Draw me a picture of a sheep.”
It makes me want to draw.