Are you unsure where to begin to improve your French reading skills? Here are eight books that every beginner should read.
Reading in a different language can help you to learn new vocabulary and examples of how to use them. This means that when you can read in the language that you are learning you will be able to pick up and use new terminology in different ways.
Some tenses only appear in the written word, so by reading different literature, you will begin to understand how these tenses work as well.
Reading French fiction will also allow you to embrace some of the country’s culture. Writing is a medium for people to document political and social issues that are affecting them at the time, so by reading their works you will have a deeper insight into these.
If you want more information on how to build sentences in French, you can take a look at this article.
French books for Adult Beginners
L’Étranger by Albert Camus
L’Étranger is the first novel written by Albert Camus, following its protagonist, Meursault, a Frenchman who lives in Algiers.
It is a modern story that has been published in several languages since its release in 1942. L’Étranger is thought to touch on aspects of philosophy beginning with Meursault’s mother’s death at the start of the book and later on his lack of emotions when he is in trouble with the law.
The language that is used in L’Étranger is simple enough for an advanced beginner, but it is said that you will be testing your comprehension skills with this read. It is not what is being said, but what you can read from between the lines with the story’s deep plot points.
La Nuit des Temps by René Barjavel
Set in Antarctica, La Nuit des Temps follows French Polar Expedition members as they make a ground-breaking discovery. The discovery that creates the plot for the whole story, as it creates a media circus and many questions about the past. This story contains romance, adventure and loss.
This book is good for those beginners who have a little bit of experience but are still getting the hang of reading in a second language.
Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers: Tour du Monde Sous-Marin by Jules Verne
A lot of people may recognise the title, Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers: Tour du Monde Sous-Marin. That’s because this book has been translated into English and published as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
For those who are not familiar with the book, it is a science fiction novel written by the French author, Jules Verne. The story’s protagonist is a French marine biologist, Pierre Aronnax, who joins an expedition to find a sea monster.
Sometimes it can help to read a familiar story in the language that you are studying, because you already know the plot. This can mean that you are able to focus more on the language that is being used, although in this case it is wise to check if the vocabulary that you are learning is still in use given the publication date of this story.
French Short Stories for Beginners by Frédéric Bibard
This suggestion is one of our books, but we are promoting it for some good reasons.
If you are looking for short stories that will help you to learn grammar and vocabulary while also offering you the opportunity to improve your listening skills at the same time, French Short Stories for Beginners is a great place to start.
The page is split so that the French version of the story is on the top, while the English translation is below it. This feature will help you to identify the vocabulary that is used instantly if you are uncertain without having to use a dictionary.
An added benefit of French Short Stories for Beginners is the ability to download the stories as audio files at two different speeds. So, you are able to listen to the stories that are available and improve your audio skills as well at your own pace.
French Children’s Books for Beginners
A lot of people who are just learning to read in a second language find it easier to start in the same way that they began to learn to read in their native language. So, while the stories listed here are primarily mentioned as children’s books, they aren’t exclusively for children.
Reading aloud to your children when they are learning French can be a great help as well, just as it is when they are learning their native language. It will not only help their understanding of the story but also their listening skills as well.
Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Le Petit Prince is a children’s classic that was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s most famous work. It is another story that has been published in both French and English, so the storyline may be familiar to those who have read it when they were young.
The story begins with the narrator talking about the differences between adults and children, before he goes on a journey and crashes his plane which is where the reader meets “Le Petit Prince” for the first time. The Little Prince proceeds to tell the narrator of his travels to the other planets in the universe.
This children’s classic is a great French book for beginners as it isn’t very long and has pictures to help readers understand what they are reading.
Le Petit Nicolas by Rene Goscinny
Published in 1950 Le Petit Nicolas is a prime example of a book that both allows you to learn to read in French, but also provides details about the culture that surrounded growing up in the 1950s.
The novel talks about what it was like to go to school in that time period, so readers learn of the separation of girls and boys for their education in that time as well as different slang phrases that were popular then.
Because of when it was published, like with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, it is advisable that you look up any vocabulary that you learn from Le Petit Nicolas because it may be a little outdated. While it is good for you to learn new words from reading in French, it wouldn’t be a good idea to start using words that aren't said anymore.
Le Petit Nicolas actually started out as a comic strip before it grew to become a series of short stories. The stories are told from Nicolas’ view and show a child’s view of the world complete with a stylistic choice to make the writing contain run on sentences and slang.
Learn French for Children Through Stories by Frédéric Bibard
This is another example of one of our books, which we are promoting.
Learn French for Children Through Stories is a collection of ten short stories that are designed for children between seven and twelve. While the storylines are more appropriate for younger viewers, this book holds the same benefits that its adult equivalent by Frédéric provides.
There is the benefit that Learn French for Children Through Stories is split between French and English, so that you complete reading the paragraph in French and automatically get to read it again in English. This means that the reader can immediately check whether they got their understanding right or check the meaning if they don’t recognise a word.
Another way that this is one of the best French books for beginners, particularly children, is that it provides the audio as well. This means that you are able to listen to the stories as well, either following along or while you do something else. By listening to the stories, you are able to improve on your audio skills as well.
Reading fiction isn’t for everyone, sometimes having a novel or even a short story in a foreign language can seem daunting. If the length of the text makes you feel anxious, it may be best to start learning to read in French by reading poetry.
Reading poetry to improve your understanding of French is advisable because it allows you to focus more on the vocabulary that has been used than you do when reading stories. While you will pick up the odd word or phrase when reading it as a part of a paragraph, with poetry there aren’t huge blocks of words so those that are used make more of an impact.
Calligrammes by Apollinaire
Calligrammes is a collection of poetry that reflects the author’s, Guillaume Apollinaire, experience fighting in WW1 and the Parisian art world. It was first published in 1918 and can be described as visual poetry.
Visual poetry means that the poems found in Calligrammes are all laid out in different shapes depending on the subject of the poem. The way that the words are written in this form of poetry influence the work just as much as the words.
Other Tips for Reading and Finding Books
Some Tips on Reading in French
- When you are beginning to read in French, the temptation to look up every single word can be strong. This is not the best way to go about it though. If you are going to spend your time constantly checking the meaning of each individual word, then you are quickly going to lose the plot.
- Look for words and phrases that you do recognise and see if you can work out the general meaning of the sentence that way. This can also be a great way of testing yourself to see how much you have learnt in your language studies.
- Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. If a book seems too long for you, break it up into sections, so you only read a chapter at a time.
- Take plenty of breaks. It won’t do you any good if you start to become stressed over misunderstandings because as a beginner there are going to be moments when you are struggling with your understanding.
- Start small and work your way up. You will notice that most of the recommendations for the best French books are mainly collections of short stories, or short stories on their own. This is because this is a better way to start than choosing a novel straight away.
- Choose a genre that interests you. It’s the same as if you were picking something to read in your native language, if you are reading a genre that doesn’t appeal to you it will be boring.
How to Find French Books
The simplest ways to find French books are to use a search engine, an online shop (such as Amazon), or going into a bookstore.
Typing “French Books for Beginners” into a search engine or the search bar of an online shop will bring up multiple recommendations for you that you are able to sort through to find one that interests you.
While if you are going into a bookstore, it is slightly more challenging. Most shops will have a limited number of books in foreign languages, if any, aside from those that are being used as coursebooks. So, if you are going out to buy your French books, I would recommend researching exactly what you want and where it’s stocked beforehand.
Regardless of how you find the books that you plan to read it is important that you ensure they are appropriate for your reading level. There would be nothing worse than purchasing a new book and being unable to get through the first sentence because it is too hard for you.
All eight of the books named above are great pieces of French literature that will help you on your journey to learn how to read in French. Whether you are looking to start with children’s books, classics, or a novel which you are already familiar with, there is something for everyone.
When you begin reading, bear in mind the tips that are mentioned, you don’t want to lose your confidence because you have chosen to read a novel or something well above your skill range and been unable to do so.
If you are wanting to push yourself and develop your comprehension skills, either before, after or while you are reading works of fiction. Then there is the option of buying books that are specifically geared towards this as well.