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The Book a Week Project: le petit nicolas

This week, I took the time to re-read one of my favorite books of all time, Le petit nicolas, by Jean-Jacques Sempé and René Goscinny. As you can probably tell by the title and the authors’ names, the collection of short stories is in French. At least, the version I read was in French. There is an English version that I’ve never read, but I don’t think that it would be any less charming than the one I know and love.

The book is a collection of short stories about a boy, Nicolas, and the things that happen to him, his friends and his family. In the first story, you are introduced to Nicolas and his friends, Alceste, Eudes, Geoffroy, Joachim, Agnan and my favorite, “la maîtresse.” It provides the perfect scene to show each of their characters; they are supposed to be taking a class picture, and each of them is acting out in one way or another. Alceste spills food on his shirt, Geoffroy is dressed as an astronaut and they all bully Agnan. By the time the teacher rallies them to take the picture, the photographer has left, fed up with their antics.

What’s great about the stories in Le petit nicolas is that they’re all relatable, no matter how old you are. When Madame Karin had us read this in third grade, I remember thinking that I wished there were more girls who were friends with Nicolas, because he seemed so cool. I loved the second story, “Les cow-boys,” because these little French boys thought that Kansas City was the Wild West. When I read it this week, I was able to appreciate the adults in the stories more, just like you get the innuendo when you watch Disney movies again ten years later.

One thing I noticed the most while reading the stories this time around was how much I pined for the innocence that’s in each of the boys. They act grown up, they try to smoke cigars, they fall in love and their fights are very complex ordeals over simple problems. But they’re still little boys, who cry when their glasses get thrown on the ground, who feel bad when they’ve upset their teacher, who think girls have cooties.

At this point in high school, I feel like I’m in limbo. I desperately want to leave this place and go to college. I want to get thrown into adulthood and see what happens. I’m so excited for this coming chapter in my life, and part of me wants to whiz through this year so it can start already. But then another part of me– a pretty sizeable part– doesn’t want to grow up. I don’t want to leave my mommy and daddy. I don’t want to leave the safe environment I’ve grown so accustomed to. And I sure don’t want to leave my cats.

I remember when I was little, if my parents had parties and they put me to bed while people were still there, I’d get so upset. I thought something amazing was going to happen without me and that I’d miss everything. That’s how I feel about college. If I leave, all the people I leave behind are going to continue growing and changing and the world isn’t going to stop turning. It’s kind of a paradox: I want to rush through this year and miss things to go to college, but I don’t want to go to college because I’m scared I’ll miss things. Nicolas and his friends serve as a friendly reminder that I really shouldn’t rush through things, because no matter what I’m missing out and my childhood will be gone far too soon.

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