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Le Petit Nicolas (Little Nicholas) is a series of French children's books. It was created by René Goscinny and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé and it was published for the first time on March 29, 1959. Nicholas is an illustration of an ideal childhood and a nostalgic memory of the 1950s.
The humour of the books derives from their unique story-telling style: the adventures of Little Nicolas are told in the first person by Nicolas himself. On the one hand, the books are a parody of the story-telling habits of little children; for example, the author makes frequent use of stylistic features such as run-on sentences and employs an egocentric, naive point of view. On the other hand, adults are the targets of the books' humour when the straightforward and uncomplicated worldview of the child narrator exposes the flaws of adult perception. The subversive element in the Petit Nicolas thus made it an early example of modern children's literature that is centred on the experience of the child, rather than an adult interpretation of the world.
The characters from the French edition include (with names from the English translation in square brackets):
Other characters include Nicolas's parents, as well as teachers and administrators in the school. The teacher is hard-working and loves the children, although they usually drive her crazy. The superintendent, Mr. Dubon, is known as "le Bouillon" ("Old Spuds").
When Nicolas is going to a camp for vacations, he and the other children are forced to take a nap. The supervisor decides to tell them a story about "a caliph who was a very good man but who had a very evil vizier...", which is a prelude to Goscinny's future comic series Iznogoud. The supervisor then tells about how the caliph dresses as a common man to find out what people think of him, and the evil vizier takes his place, which is the plot of one Iznogoud adventure.
As an example, in the French version of one particular story, an English student named George MacIntosh is enrolled in Nicolas' class. Because the name "George" in French (Georges) is pronounced with a soft "g" (like "su" in "measure"), the class has difficulty coming up with a nickname, but eventually decides on "Djodjo," playing with the hard "dj" sound. In the English version, George's nationality had to be changed; he became Flemish, and his nickname went from "Djodjo" to "Djocky".
In this version, the teacher M. Dubon (nicknamed "le Bouillon") becomes Mr. Goodman (nicknamed "Old Spuds" from his verbal tic of demanding the children 'look him in the eye' linked to the fact that Nicholas knows potatoes have eyes). In the French version of the story, M. Dubon gets his nickname from the concept of bubbles of fat resembling eyes rising to the surface of boiling broth ("bouillon").
An English edition with the title Young Nicolas was completed by Stella Rodway for Hutchinson & Co. in 1961. It was published in the USA by Bobbs-Merrill in 1962. The characters' names retain the French form. The title page lists the authors simply as "Sempé and Goscinny".
An English edition of the series with anglicized character names was released in 1978, translated by Anthea Bell. This contained five volumes: Nicholas and the Gang at School, Nicholas and the Gang Again, Nicholas on Holiday, Nicholas and the Gang, and Nicholas at Large. The first volume was republished with more complete illustrations in 2005 by Phaidon Press as Nicholas. Four further volumes followed from Phaidon, as Nicholas Again, Nicholas on Holiday (Nicholas on Vacation in North America), Nicholas and the Gang, and finally Nicholas in Trouble in 2008.
Nicholas was the subject of a Mildred L. Batchelder Honour for translated children's books in 2006 given by the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, and Nicholas and the Gang received the same honour in 2008.