Opening Reception for L'Ecole des Loisirs 50th Anniversary Events

November 30, 2015 | By French Culture

On Thursday, November 19, 2015, Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur delivered the following remarks during the opening reception for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of renowned French publishing house for children's books, L'École des Loisirs. The cocktail reception was held at Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.

Hello everyone!

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Bénédicte de Montlaur, and I’m the Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy. I’m so thrilled to welcome you all here tonight as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of renowned French publishing house, L’École des Loisirs.

As you know this is a very difficult and tragic time for us at Cultural Services following the terrorist attacks in Paris. There’s been a lot of heartbreak all around, but also a lot of hope, and we are extremely grateful for the support and sympathy of the American people in wake of these events. And though we have been shaken, we stand firm in our belief in the right to literature and culture, and the right of children to imagine and dream. So tonight’s event is a celebration, of L’École des Loisirs, of childhood, and of the liberating spirit of the arts.

Recently, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy celebrated another anniversary, the one-year anniversary of Albertine, the bookstore located in the Embassy space. And it was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what it means to love reading and books, and the significance of the great writers who inspire us and shape our thinking.

But we must not forget that no one starts reading Marcel Proust right away! We reach this realm of literature only after years of reading experience. And it’s as children that we build the foundation for a lifetime of reading.  We develop not just our ability to read, but also our craving for the literary experience – the adventures that can take us worlds away within just a few pages.

This evening is dedicated to L’École des Loisirs, a publishing house that has done much to foster this love of reading among children. Founded in 1965 in France, L’École des Loisirs has a long tradition of publishing some of the most celebrated works in children’s literature. Whether it’s Maurice Sendak’s Max et les Maximonstres, known in English as Where the Wild Things Are, or Tomi Ungerer’s Jean de la Lune, works by L’École des Loisirs have become more than just books: they’re timeless symbols of our childhoods, which we eagerly pass on to the next generation.

The success of L’École des Loisirs stems from an understanding of the vastness of children’s thinking and interests. L’École des Loisirs has long realized that, like adults, children don’t want books to teach them moral lessons. Children want to be entertained. They want to be scared, to be shocked, and to laugh. And this insight is at the core of the daring works published by L’École des Loisirs. We need to see what is dark and sinister about the three thieves in Tomi Ungerer’s Les Trois Brigands in order to appreciate how far they’ve come when they turn a palace into an orphanage.  We need to feel the struggle of Claude Ponti’s Petronille in order to revel in her victory when she makes it home to her children. L’École des Loisirs books open up children to a diversity of emotions and experiences, without insulating them from the complexity of life. And this is precisely how you inspire a lifelong love of books.

 L’École des Loisirs books are great works of children’s literature, and often great works of art as well. With a unique production process that gives authors and illustrators ample time to develop their work, L’École des Loisirs creates books that are as visually stunning as they are engaging. You only have to look around this room, which is filled with rare L’École des Loisirs illustrations and prints.

You can admire Claude Ponti’s intricacy in Bih-Bih et le Bouffron-Gouffron, or Stephanie Blake’s minimalism in Au Loup.  The displayed illustrations are a part of a month-long exhibition, in which the Embassy ballroom will become a mini arts center. It doubles as a unique reading room for children and a space to view some of L’École des Loisirs most iconic images.

To complement our exhibition, we also have a program of interactive children’s events, designed to celebrate L’École des Loisirs and to nurture young minds. These activities will take us from the MOMA Design Store to the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn. Children will have the chance to connect their own creativity to the world of book publishing and illustration. They will help French illustrator Matthieu Maudet develop an illustrated story in real time, they will build their very own book with author-illustrator Dorothée de Monfreid, and they will witness a thrilling “Battle of Drawings!” Adults, feel free to indulge in these events too and reconnect with your inner child – lest we end up like the narrow-minded grownups who always seem to appear in Tomi Ungerer’s books!

This celebration comes at a time of many new discoveries on child literacy and education. Despite all of the new digital resources available for kids, experts are still hailing the age-old tradition of picking up a book. We’re hearing that early literacy can lead to a lifetime of positive effects. We also understand the benefits of bilingual education, something that is very important to us at Cultural Services. We’ve inaugurated several Dual-Language programs in New York City public schools, and when first-graders are already reading picture books in both French and in English, we know we’re onto a very exciting track towards enhancing children’s creative possibilities. And if you love the illustrations in this room, we will actually be holding a Silent Auction of signed books, where the proceeds will support the very first French-English International Baccalaureate Program at a New York City public high school.

I would especially like to thank Maria Popova, writer and author of the acclaimed blog BrainPickings for doing an amazing job curating our event series. A big thank you as well to the legendary children’s author Tomi Ungerer for the wonderful support.

Thank you to all of the authors and illustrators who are taking the time to participate in our events: Dorothée de Monfreid and Penelope Bagieu, both of whom are with us tonight. Also Magali Bonniol, Marianne Dubuc, Julia Rothman, Malika Ferdjoukh, Tommy Wallach. And we can’t forget Matthieu Maudet, who drew the beautiful illustration on your program especially for this event, which is displayed in the ballroom as well.

A very sincere thank you to our sponsors for making this celebration possible: L’École des Loisirs, L’Institut Francais, Yves Delorme, Jacadi, Pistache, and Michel et Augustin.

And thank you all, for coming out here tonight, and for your enthusiasm. I know I’m in the presence of many book lovers tonight, and together we can all share this love with the children in our lives.

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The L'École des Loisirs exhibition is on display at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy through December 20. For more information on the exhibition and upcoming L'École des Loisirs events, please click here.

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