Happy 388th Birthday, Charles Perrault

January 12 is the birthday of Charles Perrault, a French author who has become the father of many modern stories and movies. He lived almost 400 years ago, but his tales are timeless.

He compiled a book of fairy tales, titled Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe (Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals) which was renamed as Les Contes de ma Mere l'Oye (Tales of Mother Goose).

Do you recognize these?

Le Petit Chaperon Rouge
La Belle au Bois Dormant
Le Chat Botte

Phoebe discovers the world of Charles Perrault through Madame Thomas, the minister's wife and her French teacher. Here is an excerpt from Going Home with Phoebe - 

Chapter 15
French Fairy Tales

One Sunday afternoon, while Phoebe waited in the parlor for Madame Thomas to join her, she couldn’t help but look at the books on the shelf beside her. Most of them looked boring to her, having to do with theology, and a few were in another language, which she assumed was French. One book, a large red one on the bottom shelf, looked interesting. She pulled it out to see an illustration of a little elf sitting on a cloud beneath a canopy of hanging flowers.

Madame Thomas entered and set her sewing on a low table. “I see you’ve found my Contes des Fees – my fairy tale book by Charles Perrault. My mother gave that to me when I was about your age.”

Startled to be caught snooping, Phoebe quickly tried to put it back.

“You may look at it. Each story is written in both French and English. Would you like to borrow it?”

Phoebe gasped. “But this must be a very special book to you.” She thumbed through the pages, pausing at illustrations of a castle, a girl talking with a wolf, and a cat wearing boots.

“It is special, but I know you’ll take very good care of it.”

Phoebe hugged it to her chest. "I promise." She set it near her cloak, so that she would remember it when it was time to go home.

~ ~ ~

It became harder and harder to concentrate on school lessons when warm breezes brought scents of blossoms and sounds of birdcalls through their classroom windows. Every minute of recess of the warm sunshine was a treasure.

Some played marbles, other jumped rope, but Phoebe perched on the school steps with a book on her knees, more specifically Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault that Madame Thomas had let her borrow. She read the stories first in English, and then puzzled over the French words of “Cinderella,” “Puss in Boots,” “Sleeping Beauty,” plus more.

Matthew called, “Phoebe… stop reading, and come play with us.” He was standing in a circle with some of the other younger children, too young for a game of rounders with the bigger boys.

She looked up. It took her a few seconds to bring herself into this time and place, back to the schoolyard, leaving the world of castles and fairy godmothers. She sighed,  put a scrap of paper in between the page, and shut the book. “What are you playing?”

“Punchinello! You choose the funniest actions, Phoebe.”

It was really a silly game that never ended, but the younger children loved it. They played it day after day.They chanted and clapped hands, while the one in the center of the circle performed a repetitive action, such as tapping the top of his head.

“We can do it too, Punchinello, funny fellow.
We can do it too, Punchinello, funny you.”

Everyone then mimicked the action.

“Who do you choose, Punchinello, funny fellow?
Who do you choose, Punchinello, funny you?”

The one in the center closed his eyes, extended his arm, and turned about until the end of the stanza. The person to whom he pointed was the next one to stand in the center, and it started all over again.

“Phoebe, you get in the middle, please?”

While they chanted and clapped, she hopped on one foot and flapped her arms like a bird. The children all laughed with glee. When it was time for them to join in, they wobbled and stumbled and swatted each other with their waving arms.

Phoebe closed her eyes and slowly walked in circles. When the song stopped, the bell rang. She shook her head to clear the dizziness and quickly went inside.

Halfway through geometry, she remembered the borrowed book. She raised her hand. “Miss Edgecomb? I left something outside. May I go get it now?”

“Make haste. You tend to procrastinate on your arithmetic more often than necessary.”

Phoebe scurried out and looked on the bottom step, where she had been sitting. It wasn’t there. She looked over near the oak tree, where they had been playing Punchinello. It wasn’t there. She even looked in the outhouse although she was sure she hadn’t taken it in there. It wasn’t anywhere!

Where can it be? It’s not mine. I’ve got to find it.

Phoebe returned to the schoolroom. She looked in her desk. No, it wasn’t there. Where could it be?

“Phoebe Johanson, is there a problem?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I was reading a book during recess, and now I can’t find it.”

“Class, Phoebe has misplaced her book… What is the name of the book, Phoebe?”

“It’s Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, but it’s not really mine. I borrowed it from Madame Thomas. I just have to find it!”

“Has anyone seen the book Phoebe was reading?”

Everyone looked at each other, but no one had an answer. They all looked at her with sympathy and disappointment, except for Delly. She kept on working on her arithmetic figuring and acted as if she hadn’t heard Miss Edgecomb at all.

The primary class resumed their recitation and the others went back to their work, but Phoebe couldn’t focus on her geometry at all. Would Delly take the book? She shouldn’t think ill of anyone without proof, but it surely looked suspicious. She’d just have to find out after school.

Phoebe tried hard to make her obtuse and acute angles fit into her circle graph, but they just wouldn’t cooperate. She gladly put her books and slate away when Miss Edgecomb gave the signal for the closing song and prayer.

When she finally got outside, Delly and her brothers were already half way down the hill. “Delly! Wait for me!” but she never looked back. Phoebe looked  around the schoolhouse one more time before heading home.

“I’m sorry about your book,” said Matthew as he fell in step beside her.

“Me, too . . . mostly because it’s not mine, but I think I know where it is.”


“I think someone took it.”


(To purchase this book, CLICK HERE)

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