I think we can all agree that there are very few things as pleasant as getting lost in a good book. Maybe you have been learning French for a while now and are thinking of diving into some French books.
France has some of the most well-known writers in the world: Emile Zola, Victor Hugo and Marcel Proust just to name a few. However, when your French knowledge is still quite basic, you will want to stick to easier-to-read texts, with more simple language (don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!).
Reading is a good way of improving your French vocabulary and grammar. You can read books at your own pace and although reading is considered a more ‘traditional’ way of learning, it can really accelerate your French studying.
Yet, before I give you some names of easy-to-read French books for French learners, I’d like to ask a question…
Are French Literature Books The Right Studying Tools?
When writing this sort of article, most people will start with a word of caution: you will need to know at least a little bit of the French language to read a French book (otherwise you will be looking up every single word in a dictionary – and that definitely won’t be fun).
Then, give you tips to make the most out of your French reading:
- Practice active reading; this means looking up any words you are not familiar with and writing them down (and then memorizing them).
- Pay attention to the French verb tenses – look at the word endings. This will help both your understanding of the plot and your grammar skills.
- To practice your speaking and pronunciation skills, read aloud.
All these may work for a certain type of learner.
They surely won’t work for me!
Personally, if I had tried to learn English with English literature, I would have been so, so very frustrated.
It’s just too difficult!
As a beginner French learner, you simply don’t have the vocabulary to follow a book written by French people for French people.
Brutally honest, I know, but it makes sense, don’t you think?
The reaction I usually get when I say this is: “what about children books?”
Reading Children Book To Learn French
French kids learn how to speak way before they learn how to read. By the time they can read a novel, so usually by age eight or ten, they have much more vocabulary and French language mastery than a beginner or intermediate French learner…
So… French books written for older kids are going to be somewhat easier to read than regular French literature. Yet, I still believe they will be too difficult for French learners.
What about bilingual books?
Improving Your French With Bilingual Books
There are many bilingual books options out-there. Usually with one page in French, one page in English. There are also specialised language apps which will give you the English translation of a French word with a click.
Yet, this doesn’t address the overall difficulty of the language. If you have to check every other word, is this really an efficient way to learn French?
I can think of more problems which come with studying French with books:
- You don’t know whether the word you are learning is currently used in French. You don’t want to speak using 19th century expressions…
- It’s not because you can read a word that you can pronounce it.
This why I have written my own bilingual French books. Level-adapted stories, with an easy-to-use “hide and reveal” the English translation option, and entirely recorded in French. My recordings even include a slower, traditional and a bit formal French pronunciation and a more colloquial, everyday French pronunciation.
So, now that we said all this… Some people really enjoy reading literature, and will be proud to have read a French masterpiece in French.
If you are among them, here is a list of French books Nicole has helped me put together: she selected these classic French literature books because they are on the easier side.
Be ready to use a dictionary, and enjoy your reading!
5 Easy Classical French Books
1 – Le Petit Prince- Antoine de Saint- Exupéry
Le Petit Prince is one of the most famous and widely translated books of all time (not only in France). Although it might look like a simple children’s book, it is cherished by adults and people of all ages. It is a deep and profound tale about a young boy who travels through space, and the story covers the themes of loneliness, friendship, love and loss.
As a bonus, there are beautiful illustrations. This is a very small book, which includes many dialogues which makes it a great book to start off with.
2 – Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan
Bonjour Tristesse was written when Sagan was only 18 years old. This classic is considered a must-read of French literature. It is a coming of age novel- the protagonist ‘Cécile’ a rather spoilt teenager, spends the summer in the luxurious French Riviera with her widowed father. However, when an old friend of her mother’s, ‘Anne’ comes back into the picture, everything begins to change.
It’s not a long novel – just over 100 pages – and it has a direct and simple style (so it’s accessible for non-native speakers.)
3 – L’étranger – Albert Camus
You may have heard of ‘L’étranger’ because many teachers recommend this book as part of the school curriculum. Albert Camus is also a very well-known French-Algerian writer and philosopher.
In this book, the main protagonist ‘Mersault’ is a young man who is completely emotionally detached from life. When he becomes friends with his neighbour, he is drawn into a conflict with a group of Arabs, leading to a murder. I won’t spoil the rest of the plot!
The story combines themes of existentialism and absurdism. So if you’re up for a little challenge, this book might be a good option.
What makes this book simplier is the use of the tenses : a lot of the book is written in the present tense, and uses passé-composé rather than passé-simple (which is not simple!) for the past.
4 – L’amant – Marguerite Duras
‘L’amant’ is an autobiographical tale by Marguerite Duras. The story recounts a young girl’s affair with a rich, older Chinese gentleman during French-colonized Vietnam. The themes of love, colonialism, poverty, and femininity are explored in this novel. The story was awarded the ‘Prix Goncourt in 1984’.
I find Marguerite’s language to be quite straightforward which makes it a good read for French learners.
5 – Tintin- Hergé
You’ve probably heard of the comics, “Les aventures de Tintin.” Tintin is a real classic. The character is a smart journalist, with a cute pet dog and a grumpy sailor friend. These comics are great for both children and adults. The animations should help you to understand the storyline, and reading Tintin will expose you to another type of French culture: la bande-dessinée.
Every week there are mysteries and clues to unfold. Tintin is always exposing scandals and crimes. The only downside is that there are a few political overtones and negative stereotypes.
If you are fond of any other easy-to-read French books, don’t hesitate to leave a recommendation in the comments section below!
If you prefer books in an audiobook format (you can still read the transcript) remember you have many options with French Today.