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A Gentle Giant Rests: The Legacy of Laurent de Brunhoff and His Beloved Babar.

In the quiet serenity of Key West, Florida, a chapter closed on a legacy that has charmed and stirred the imaginations of children worldwide. Laurent de Brunhoff, the venerable author and illustrator who carried on the enchanting tales of Babar the Elephant, passed away at the age of 98. His journey ended in the warmth of his home, surrounded by the memories of a life dedicated to storytelling, after receiving hospice care for two weeks.


Laurent de Brunhoff (Source: Wikipedia)
Laurent de Brunhoff (Source: Wikipedia)

Born into the vibrant culture of Paris, Laurent was but a child of 12 when the shadow of loss first touched him, with the death of his father, Jean de Brunhoff, the original creator of Babar. This profound loss did not deter him; instead, it set the stage for a lifelong homage to his father's vision. Jean de Brunhoff brought to life the story of Babar, initially a bedtime tale told by his wife, Cecile, to their children. It was a story that captivated hearts with its first publication, "Histoire de Babar" in 1931, growing into a series that continued even after Jean's untimely death in 1937.


Laurent, after surviving the tumult of World War II, embarked on his artistic journey at the Grand Chaumière Academy of Art. In the mid-1940s, he made a pivotal decision to extend the narrative landscape his father had crafted, bringing forth dozens more adventures of the gentle elephant king. His works were not confined to Babar alone; he ventured into creating other cherished children's books, such as "Bonhomme" and "Serafina." His and his father's artistry has been celebrated in exhibitions across the globe, highlighting the timeless appeal of their creations.


Yet, the legacy of Babar is complex, woven with threads of controversy alongside its enchantments. The narrative of Babar's early life, marred by tragedy and colonization, sparked debate among parents and critics alike. The series faced criticisms of racism and colonialism, notably criticized by the Jewish-Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman in 1983 for presenting a narrative that many felt rationalized global inequality.


Laurent de Brunhoff's life was a testament to resilience, creativity, and the power of storytelling. He was a bridge between the old world and the new, carrying forward a legacy that began in the imagination of his parents. His partnership with his widow, the critic and biographer Phyllis Rose, brought forth modern classics, including "Babar's Guide to Paris" in 2017, heralded as the last of the series.


The passing of Laurent de Brunhoff marks the end of an era. Yet, Babar, the elephant king, remains a symbol of kindness, wisdom, and the enduring power of family stories. Laurent's work ensures that the legacy of Babar will continue to inspire, teach, and comfort generations to come, a fitting tribute to a man who devoted his life to the art of storytelling. As we bid farewell to a literary giant, we celebrate the worlds he created, which will forever hold a special place in the hearts of children and adults alike.

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