Leo le Chat Goes to School
by Opal Dunn; illustrated by Cathy Gale
I live next door to the Lycee Francais, and I'm forever bumping into towheads in navy uniforms, trailing their thin, effortlessly glamorous Moms. They gather in the nearby park like exotic birds, pecking at healthy snacks and chittering in rapid French.
They only serve to remind me of how my mother discouraged me from learning that language ("Spanish is more useful, you can talk to the cleaning lady") until I made a feeble stab at it in college.
By then it was too late; years of resolute resistance to all things Spanish translated into a tin ear for the language of romance, of Proust, of the Impressionists and all those fancy menus. In three trips there, I spoke about as well as Marcel Marceau--that is to say, I'm fluent in the language of manic hand gestures and panicked facial expressions.
Fortunately, this little book of first words and phrases comes with a glossary and pronunciation guide in back. Leo only speaks French, but you can lift little flaps to translate what he says. You have to tell him not to sit on the table or help him find his ball, whatever. The usual cute stuff. In French. And there's a series of these, by the way.
My son's learning Hebrew, however, and at age four is already correcting my pronunciation. That's okay, if I ever get back to Israel, I'll just brush up on my head-scratching and confused looks--the universal language of tourists.