Mélissa Baril, Caribou à Lunettes, French Youth Literature                                          
Kathleen Stein-Smith, PhD, Officier dans l’Ordre des Palmes acad​émiques, Chair, AATF Commission on Advocacy


In a globalized and multilingual world and an increasingly multilingual US, language skills and cultural knowledge can lead to greater empathy for other cultures and empower language learners both globally and locally. Based on the authors’ session at the OFLA/CSCTFL 2023 conference, this article examines the significance of the French language and Francophone culture in our historical heritage and our cultural identity, as well as their significance among the advocacy steps needed to ensure their future.

Advocacy takes place in the classroom and beyond, and advocacy initiatives can be found in educational institutions and organizations reflecting a wide range of interests and including various levels of French language skills. In addition to AATF and its Commission on Advocacy, OFLA, and Central States, language learning and use are encouraged and supported in communities, the workplace, and the media by organizations including the Franco-American Centre and Nous Foundation, by in-person and online programs like the Franco-Canadian Legacy Podcast and the NH PoutineFest, and through creativity and the arts.

The appreciation of literature is always beneficial, and facilitating the experience of books and literature in French among young adults supports both language skills and cultural understanding. At the same time, it encourages – highlighting contemporary North American authors – the creative use of French within the individual through reading, illustration, and potentially creative writing.

Le Caribou à Lunettes: The Importance of Youth Literature in Francophone Culture and French Language Advocacy

In every language, books serve as mirrors, windows, and sliding doors. They offer a representation of the readers’ reality, make them discover new horizons, and accompany them in transitioning between these two worlds.  These offerings are invaluable assets provided that the literature we teachers propose is diverse and includes authors, illustrators, and publishers worldwide.

Before continuing, one clarification is essential: who is children’s literature for? Should we reduce it to a specific and immutable age group? No, and this is again what makes it beautiful. It is flexible, adaptable, and versatile. Everybody can read youth literature, regardless of age or language level.

Let’s take the example of the collection of poetry Carry On: Poetry by Young Immigrants (Owlkids Books)—the original French version “Bagages, mon histoire” (published by Éditions de La Bagnole). Written by teenagers newly arrived in Quebec, these poems recreate both movements from the four corners of the world and a wide spectrum of emotions.

These words resonate as much with students from the upper grades in elementary school as teenagers and even with adults for whom the stories echo. Short and easy to read, accessible to language learners, these poems are rich in vocabulary and experience. They prove that learning a new language is hard but also powerful, achievable, and rewarding. The publisher has retained specific syntax errors to preserve the authenticity of the testimonials (written in French by learners) and the power of the stories.

Reading “Bagages, mon histoire” allows us to approach the notion of displacement and migration. Around the concept of “suitcase,” a creative workshop can be developed to picture the double observation of loss and gain, resonating with students who have experienced a move.

Also, by using sensory memory, as author Simon Boulerice did with the newcomers in his writing workshops leading to this book, learners can take up the pen to tell their story. The result, even with 4th and 5th graders, is stunning.

For an even more enriching experience, I recommend pairing the book with the documentary Baggage, which first gave the floor to these young immigrants, and where we address the notion of multiculturalism and multiple identities in more detail.

The selection of children’s books from Francophone publishers is abundant, but unfortunately, little known in the United States. The mission of the Caribou à lunettes is to make it more easily accessible and to demonstrate its diversity. Thus, several books were highlighted during the conference to give an overview of what exists today; the themes conveyed and the workshops that can be created around these books to boost their use. Also, to accentuate the impact of youth literature, nothing is better than organizing a meeting with the artists behind a book, now easily achievable by videoconference. The impact is phenomenal on the learners, enhancing the link to the story and the culture.

Besides, we often underestimate linguistic insecurity, especially within the French language, which is unconsciously disseminated among speakers, learners, and even mother-tongue speakers. The use of a vast array of literature can here again sweep away this idea of ​​good or bad French by demonstrating different varieties. It is also by building bridges between communities in the Americas and particularly in the USA that it will be possible to combat this phenomenon and create a feeling of belonging. There are 11 million French speakers in this country. There are certainly millions of opportunities to create links and connect locally. The impact on learners will be all the stronger when they see that the language is useful here, whether it is a heritage language, as for many in the Midwest, or a foreign language.

Children’s literature is, therefore, an accessible magic wand for creating empathy, energizing the learning of the French language, and promoting its associated cultures. One challenge is to connect the right book to the right reader, depending on their age and level. Connecting readers to the right book depending on their age and level is feasible, thanks to the wide variety of books available in French.   


French language advocacy, recognizing the history and significance of the French language and Francophone culture around the world and in North America, is inherently interdisciplinary, with an appreciation of literature as a pathway to language learning and use among people of all ages and interests, with varying degrees of linguistic knowledge.

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