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Life with Babar (PHOTOS)

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Babar was born in 1931 when I was 6 and my brother Mathieu was 5. We were living just outside Paris. One night our mother told us a bed time story about a little elephant whose mother is killed by a hunter and who runs away from the jungle where he was born until he reaches a city very much like Paris. There he meets a kind old lady who gives him money to buy nice clothes. He becomes quite sophisticated in the city but eventually goes back home to the jungle, where he is crowned king of the elephants.

Mathieu and I told this story to our father, Jean de Brunhoff, who was an artist. He did a book for us based on the story, with large pages of illustrations, and he named the little elephant Babar. (In our mother's story he was only "baby elephant"). My brother and I loved this book and so did other members of my father's family, who happened to be in the publishing business. They published the book in the same large format as the original work, and it was a great success. The year after it was published in Paris, it was translated into English and published in New York.

My father enjoyed making the book and started immediately to make a second one, this time inventing the story himself...and then another, and another...

When our brother Thierry was born, our father had the idea of giving a family to Babar as well, and the triplets Pom, Flore, and Alexandre were born. After "Babar and his Children" he made another book called "Babar and Father Christmas". We used to spend some of the winter in Switzerland, skiing, and this book drew on that - and our love of Christmas.

But then our father became sick with tuberculosis and had to stay in a sanatorium. He died in 1937. I was 12, Mathieu 11, and Thierry 3. His two last books, Babar and his Children and Babar and Father Christmas existed only in black line. My uncle Michel de Brunhoff, the editor of VOGUE, thought I had inherited my father's gift, and he asked me to do the color. I did it on the table of my father's studio. So I was 13 when I started to work on Babar.

I have been creating Babar books myself since just after World War II, and many people don't realize there were a change of illustrator. I studied at the same art school my father had, the Academy de la Grande Chaumiere, under the same teacher, the Fauvist painter Othon Friesz. I taught myself to draw elephants in my father's style. At first, it was just for my own pleasure, but then I worked with the idea of doing a book as much like the ones my father had done as I could. Babar's Cousin, That Rascal Arthur, was published in 1946. I identified with Arthur, because he was the youngest of the elephants, so I made him the hero of this first adventure. Continuing the series was a way of keeping my father alive in my mind.

After that for a while I went on with two careers, abstract painting and doing Babar and other children's books, but in the end Babar won, and I found myself, in some way, turned into an elephant.

In 1985 I came to the USA, to live with the writer Phyllis Rose, now my wife. Phyllis helps me, having ideas, writing the text, and she has a good eye. We don't often go to Paris, but I keep in touch with my family on the other side of the Atlantic: my daughter, my son, my brother Mathieu, and my brother Thierry. My mother died at the age of 99 a few years ago, never having remarried.

Today it is strange for me to think that I've long since passed the age my father was at the time of his death. I have been drawing Babar for over 60 years. I've written and illustrated over30 Babar books. In some way Babar has become mine. But I never forget that Babar was created by my father.

Our family has always lived with Babar, Our lives are intertwined with his. It is an honor and a pleasure to live with him. I myself have never tired of drawing Babar or felt anything but grateful to my father for giving me both my life's work and my life's companion.

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