Resources to Help You Read in French

One of the best ways to improve your French is by reading. Unlike spoken French, which can sometimes be too fast to understand, reading allows you to go at your own pace. It adds to your vocabulary and can help your pronunciation if you read out loud. No matter what your level of French, reading is a fun and effective way to get better at this beautiful language.

But where to start? I’ve put together a list of excellent resources for readers at any level, from debutantes to advanced. It’s never too late to get started!

Check out my article at My French Life to find some fun things to read!

Fun French Humor: Toto Jokes

With all the craziness in the world today, who couldn’t use some laughs? Let me introduce you to Toto, a little scamp who has been the subject French humor for over 100 years.

Toto is the archetypical naughty schoolboy, always causing trouble and exasperating grownups. Toto jokes usually revolve around school, homework, and talking back to adults. The jokes are short and are popular among elementary school children. Their innocence and simplicity are refreshing!

Check out these Toto jokes, first in French and then in English, in My French Life!

A Delightful Trip to Middle-of-Nowhere France

Oh boy, I love books about France and this is one of the best.

France is full of fascinating places to visit, like Paris, Provence, the Riviera, Normandy, and more. There are so many that it’s hard to decide where to go! Well, it just got harder because Janine Marsh’s description of her tiny village in “middle-of-nowhere-France” is so delightful that you’ll want to go there, too. I know I do.

Fifteen years ago, Janine and her husband Mark bought a wreck of a house in the Seven Valleys region of northern France. They didn’t plan to buy a house; they were on a shopping trip from their home in London and stumbled into a real estate office to get out of the rain. The next thing they knew they were looking at a place that cost “less than a Hermes handbag.” They bought it as a bit of a lark, thinking it would make a nice place for vacations and the occasional weekend getaway.

But life had other plans. The little village captured their hearts and soon they packed up and moved to France. The next dozen years were spent refurbishing the house (including a septic tank explosion that earned Janine the nickname Madame Merde), collecting a vast collection of farm animals (including a demented chicken named Ken) and settling into the local community.

Janine and Mark are those rarest of birds, expats who have really become members of a French village. They drink at a local bar that looks like someone’s living room circa 1955. They play charades with their neighbors, where everyone fights to play Johnny Holliday or Edith Piaf. They chat with the bread delivery man—their village is too tiny to support a boulangerie—who occasionally has questions about English (“What means the expression, ‘It sucks?’”)

The best part of the book is the way Janine writes about of her neighbors, a friendly and occasionally eccentric crew who have welcomed Janine and Mark with great warmth. There’s Jean-Claude, who teaches them how to trim hedges and make crow pâté. And Claudette, always ready with a hot cup of coffee and a plate of something tasty. And “Miss Pepperpot,” the tiny lady who occasionally needs help getting wayward cows out of her flowerbed, and offers jars of homemade jam as thanks.

I love Janine’s writing and laughed when she described a young couple falling in love over a shared passion for mushroom hunting (“one fungi led to another…”) And her description of a strong local drink (“Calvados can blow your socks off, and after a couple of hours we were all pretty much sockless.”)

If you are stuck at home and looking for something to brighten your day, think about taking a trip to this delightful corner of France. I just loved this book and I think you will, too.

You can find My Four Seasons in France on Amazon.

Armchair Travel in France with Robert Louis Stevenson

Bored at home? Missing France? Here’s a pleasant way to while away a few hours.

Known for his classic novels like Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson was an adventurer. Born into a family of lighthouse designers in Scotland, as a young man he longed to see the wider world. As he put it,

“I have been after an adventure all my life, a pure adventure, such as befell early and heroic voyagers.”

His first great adventure was in France, in the wild and rugged region known as the Cévennes. At the age of 27 he made his way to the tiny village of Le Monastier, where he gathered (too many) provisions, had a sleeping bag made, and bought a donkey named Modestine. Then he set out—admittedly, not really knowing what he was doing—on a 12-day march into the unknown.

Read all about this fun book in France Today!

Book Review: Lavender, Loss & Love at the Villa des Violettes

“Families come in all shapes and sizes.”

This phrase, spoken by one the women in Patricia Sands’ new novella, is a good summary of what this lovely book is about. And what families they are! United by love, friendship, and sometimes even biology. Sands shows us how families bind us together, forming the center of a life well-lived.

As with all of her books, Sands does a wonderful job of capturing the sights, smells, and flavors of this unique part of the world. We see the stunning ocher mines of Roussillon, the austere beauty of the Abbey de Senanque, and the magical sound & light show inside the Carrières de Lumières. We learn about Provencal traditions like la vendange—the grape harvest—where each new vintage begins with a joyous celebration. And of course, there are meals, lots of meals, with tables bursting with the bounty of Provence.

Learn more about this fun new book at Perfectly Provence!

Reading in French–How to Get Started

French is a beautiful language, but like any foreign tongue, it can be intimidating. I remember the first time I was in Paris and a local spoke to me. I froze because I had no idea what she’d just said! It was so embarrassing. Let me tell you how reading in French can help you, as it helped me, no matter what your level.

I didn’t begin studying French in earnest until I was in my late 40s.

I improved little by little and today, a dozen years later, I can speak the language comfortably. I subscribe to a French newspaper and watch French news. And one of the things that has helped me is reading.

When I first started, I could only read the short handouts I got from my French teacher. Eventually, I tried newspapers and magazines, and finally made it to simple books—my first one is very popular with 12-year-olds!

Now I’ve enjoyed a number of French novels, including some of the classics.

I offer my tips for getting started with French reading in My French Life.

Try a Graphic Novel for Easy French Reading

Let’s say you know some French and would like to try reading something more challenging that a magazine article. Here’s an idea for you: a bande dessinée, or BD, what we call a graphic novel in English.

When native English-speakers think of illustrated stories, comic books like Batman and Spiderman usually come to mind.These are considered ‘kid stuff’ rather than something an adult would read. Sure, there is the occasional graphic novel that reaches an adult readership, like Persepolis or Maus (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), but those are exceptions.

Not so in France.

No, in France the BD is a serious and respected art form, with an annual festival in Angoulême that attracts hundreds of thousands. And while comic-book-style BDs are popular, those dealing with adult themes are also widely read. And they are a great way for a French learner to read in French. The text is limited and the illustrations help you understand the story.

I’ve written an article on the advantages of BDs for French learners, along with an explanation of the different kinds that are available (history, humor, contemporary social issues, and more.) You can read all about it at My French Life!

Discover Marcel Pagnol, the Bard of Provence

Jean de Florette…My Father’s Glory…Marius and Fanny. These and other beloved works were all written by Marcel Pagnol, the bard of Provence. Ask a local what author best describes their part of the world and chances are they’ll name Pagnol.

A fascinating character, Marcel Pagnol was not only an author but also a great filmmaker, the first to be elected into the prestigious Académie française. And he’s my favorite French author. No one else can conjure life in the south of France the way he can.

Want to learn more? Read my article about Pagnol in Perfectly Provence!

Audiobook Giveaway—Enter Now!

I’m thrilled to let you know that the audio-book version of Are We French Yet? has just been published. The reader is Doug Schuetz, a talented voice actor who just happens to be my old college roommate! We’ve stayed in touch over the years, mostly holiday cards and such, and this was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect, share memories, and have fun during the recording.

Doug and I live on opposite coasts so he would record a few chapters, send them to me for review, and then make any corrections. His only stipulation when he agreed to the project was that I not “go all Martin Scorsese” and try to tell him how to do his job. As Doug put it, “You’re a terrific author but not an actor or a director—I’m the professional. Let’s each do what we’re good at.” He said it in a lighthearted manner but I got the point.

And I love the result! He made my funny stories even funnier by the way he read them. A few times while listening, I would call Val into the room and tell her, “You’ve just got to hear this!”

The audio-book is available from Amazon here and would make a great Christmas gift for the France-lover in your life. And to get things rolling, I have six copies to give away. Just let me know in the comment below that you’d like one , by next Wednesday the 11th, and I’ll pick the winners from those who enter.

A Forgotten French Classic

The New York Review of Books called it, “The runaway best seller of nineteenth-century France, possibly the greatest best seller of all time.”

The Washington Post described it as, “Aristocrats with secrets, a prostitute with a heart of gold, criminals nicknamed the Schoolmaster and the She-Wolf, an evil lawyer, thwarted love, blackmail and conspiracy—this is a sprawling novel that packs in everything and then adds more.”

What is it? Les Mystères de Paris / The Mysteries of Paris, the book that inspired Victor Hugo to write Les Misérables. Almost as interesting as the book is the author himself, a man born to privilege (his godmother was Empress Josephine) who became one of the leading Socialists of his day.

The book is ripping good fun in either French or English. Read all about it at My French Life!