Les malheurs de Sophie – Comtesse de Ségur (née Rostopchine), 1858

Another for the Sony Reader. I read dozens of Comtesse de Ségur books in the Bibliothèque Rose when I was a kid, but this is the one I remember best (I was going to say aside from the passages about the Great Pyrenees dog in L’auberge de l’ange gardien, which I now realize I have confused with Belle et Sébastien.) I still to this day identify with poor silly, greedy, impulsive Sophie who is always getting in trouble, but this is a strange book to modern eyes. The children are tiny (Sophie turns five in the book) but behave, and are expected to behave, like much older kids. For example, Sophie has a little pocket knife with which she enjoys cutting up all kinds of things (good and bad). (This may be what influenced me to loan my little brother, who was 5 at the time, a “knife” I had made from a ripped metal can embedded in a piece of styrofoam, on the condition that he be careful and not cut himself. Of course he did and I got in trouble, but I was angry at him for breaking his promise to me! I was 7.) Sophie and her cousin Paul keep all sorts of pets which always meet a bad end by the end of the chapter. No sugar-coating death in the 19th century, no siree. Everything is a moral lesson about “le bon Dieu.” But it’s still extremely readable today–lots of dialogue, and very realistic portrayals of child characters. A wonderful way to time travel.

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