Alphabet en images

A children's book about the alphabet by Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain

In 1925, the new illustrated volume Alphabet en Images by the French illustrator Madeleine-Amélie Franc-Nohain or, as she is called here in the book, Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain was published in Paris. I would like to introduce the book to you.

Paris in the 1920s.

The First World War is over, and France, the Grand Nation, emerges from the carnage of the war weakened by millions of lives, but morally strengthened. After 1918, the war production of the Grand Nation was converted back to peacetime production, and after an interim recession, the upswing finally began in 1924. The city entered a phase that we know today as the Roaring Twenties. And Paris had a magnetic attraction for artists of all stripes. Ernest Hemingway travelled from the USA, Scott Fitzgerald wrote: "The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American" (The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American).

With Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel and Man Ray, surrealism developed in the image and in innovative film.

T.S. Eliot wrote his novella Sarah & Gerald about the 1920s in Paris, Gertrude Stein had already been running a salon in Paris since 1903, and after the war many artists and writers of the so-called Lost Generation came to her salon, including, among many others, T.S.Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jean Cocteau and Ernest Hemingway, who dedicated the novel A Moveable Feast (Paris - A Feast for Life, published posthumously in 1964) to his time in Paris.

Economically, France benefited from state investment and exports, including to the United States. The recovery also benefited from an increase in productivity in modern sectors of the economy such as the metal and chemical industries and the car and electrical industries.

In times "when the Third Republic had six new warships built, constantly proclaimed its intentions of peace, concluded a war-avenge pact with the USA and abandoned the Spanish Republic to the fascists", 1 kg of bread cost 1 franc 58 in Paris.

The Bulletin périodique des livres nouveaux published the following new publication on 15 November 1924:

Mme Madeleine Franc-Nohain - Alphabet en Images. 1 alb. 19 x 27, 30 composit. en coul. (6 fr. 50).

And now, almost 100 years later, I hold this book in my hands and it looks as fresh and vibrant as if it had just been published. Apart from a slight yellowing of the pages.

30 pages

Drawn Alphabet Stories

In 1924, Madeleine-Amélie Franc-Nohain was 46 years old and already an established artist. Her book Le Journal de bébé was already published in 1914 and was reprinted several times: in 1927, in 1980 by Nestlé and in 1987 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alphabet en Images was published by Larousse in Paris. It was meant, to use the publishers' words, to be recreation after reading. Perhaps for the first time, it was also meant to be a pleasure to read. And it was intended as a template for one's own drawings, ideas and stories that could arise from the illustrations shown with imagination.

The publishing house

Édition Larousse are a publishing house in Paris, now part of Hachette Livre. The motto and symbol of the publishing house was the Semeuse, the sowing woman blowing seeds from a dandelion, plus until 1993 the motto "Je sème à tout vent" ("I sow to all winds"). I like the motto very much.

The publishing house grew out of the bookshop Maison Larousse & Boyer, which two teachers founded in the Latin Quarter in 1852: Pierre Larousse and Augustin Boyer. "The aim of these two anti-clerical republicans was to write renovated textbooks for primary and secondary education, along the lines of those offered by Louis Hachette since 1833." (Source:

Pierre Larousse worked for 25 years (sic!) on the Grand dictionnaire universel du xixe siècle, published from 1866 to 1877 in 15 volumes and 20800 pages. Compared to that, my Jenny Lind project, which I've been working on for about 11 months now, looks like nothing.

The book

Alphabet en Images

The book is 31.5 cm high and 24.5 cm wide. It has a coloured cover and contains 32 coloured, illustrated and unnumbered pages and is about 7 mm thick.

The cover is made of 1 mm thick cardboard laminated in colour and held together by a spine made of bookbinding linen in signal red, narrowly overlapping the title and the spine. On a background in a refined shimmering green-yellow linen look, a white area of width 19.5 cm x height 20 cm is left open, in which, framed by a bold line in 2.1 pt or 2 Didot dots, the first colour illustration is printed.

Above the white area, the title of the book is printed in black in 52 pt/36 pt, heavily blocked capitals in a grotesque font: ALPHABET EN IMAGES.

The cover is followed directly by the title without endpapers. Here the title is printed in justified capitals:

Author: Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain
Title: Alphabet en Images
Content: 31 Gravures en couleurs
Publisher: Librairie Larousse - Paris (VI°) 13 à 21, rue Montparnasse, et boulevard Raspail, 114

The title page shows another 3-colour illustration between the title and the contents in the size W 11 cm x H 8 cm. The title page is followed on its reverse by an introduction to the book by the editors. The text is set in justified type in a 16pt grotesque, the first paragraph has an initial that goes over 2 lines. The text reads:

Alphabet en Images

Chers Enfants,
Ce joli livre sera votre récréation après la leçon de lecture. C'est avec joie que vous retrouverez ici les lettres de l'alphabet apprises en classe ; mais elles auront pour vous, cette fois, une physionomie plus gaie, parce qu'elles sont groupées de façon à former des phrases amusantes et qu'elles accompagnent de belles images, pour le plaisir de vos yeux.
Vous goûterez donc vraiment, et pour la première fois sans doute, le charme de la lecture.
Les petits tableaux qui ornent ces pages seront d'agréables sujets de causerie en famille; ils vous rappelleront les grands événements de votre jeune vie. Ils seront de plus pour vous d'excellents modèles de dessin; vous vous en inspirerez avec fruit pour composer d'autres images que vous pourrez ensuite colorier à votre fantaisie. LES ÉDITEURS.

And in the englisch translation

Alphabet en Images

Dear children!
This beautiful book will be your rest after the reading lesson. You will enjoy finding here the letters of the alphabet that you learned in class, but this time they will have a more cheerful physiognomy for you because they are grouped together to form funny sentences and because they accompany beautiful pictures to delight your eyes.
So you will really experience - and probably for the first time - the charm of reading.
The little pictures that decorate these pages are pleasant topics for family conversation and will remind you of the great events of your young life. Besides, they are excellent drawing-templates for you, and you will be glad to be inspired by them to make other pictures, which you can then colour in according to your fancy. THE EDITORS..

Below the text, an ornament of branches and flowers finishes the page.

Front endpaper, title.  Alphabet en Images, Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain
Front endpaper, title. Alphabet en Images, Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain
30 illustrated pages

The alphabet from A to Z

There follow 30 pages on a rough, open-looking paper with an estimated cardboard weight of 160 gr/m2 with illustrations and short verses for each letter of the alphabet from A-Z, there are 2 pages each for the letters M, P, S, V. Perhaps the publisher liked the illustrations so much? However, it is always necessary to find page numbers that are divisible by 4. 

Each page is similar but very varied in design and printed in three colours. Each double-page spread has either blue or green as its defining main colour. The background illustrations are printed in it, as are the double lines surrounding the illustration and the mnemonic verse. The main colour is the third printing colour of the illustrations, along with red and black.

The three-colour illustrations measure W 14 cm x H 17 cm and are framed by a bold line in black at about 2.1 pt or 2 didot points. Below the illustrations is the verse printed in a variety of fonts.

Verse and illustration are further surrounded by a coloured frame with a double line, which measures W 15 cm x H 22,2 cm. Inside a thin line in 1 pt thickness, outside a bold line in 2.1 pt or 1 Didot point. The frame is surrounded by further illustrations, which are only line drawings and only printed in one colour in the main colour. There are a total of 4 different background illustrations, printed either in blue or green. 

1 Balloons

Individual letters of the alphabet with capital letters depicted in balloon-like circles, partly twisted, birds flying around between them in the upper part; three girls are standing and sitting below. One girl has let fly a letter balloon (Z) and in her other hand a cat on a leash, one girl is sitting and looking at the cat, another girl is still holding the leash for the balloon with the letter A in her hand, but the little dog to her left has broken away from the leash in her other hand.

2 The boy fishing

The boy fishing is standing bent over on the top left of the page, holding his fishing rod in a body of water in which simple fish are swimming and a water plant can be seen on the bottom right.

3 soap bubbles

Two girls or a girl and a boy are blowing soap bubbles into the air, they are standing at the bottom of the page, next to them a dog in front of its food bowl, next to them a stool on which a container with the soap bubble liquid is standing. At the top of the page, two angel turkeys fly through the picture and try to catch the soap bubbles.

4 playing children

The background illustration shows children playing. At the top of the picture, boys carry a small flag from right to left, then children can be seen playing with balls, with dolls and doll carriages or bending down to a plant while pulling a duck on a board behind them.

There is a French mnemonic for each letter side of the alphabet. This is printed in eye-catching typography under the illustration. The mnemonics, which, by the way, are also good for finding a French first name, are:  

A - Amélie et son Ane s'avancent dans l'allée plantee d'arbes.
B - Bernard met son bateau dans la baignoire
C - Colette dans ca cabane donne des coquelicots à son cabri.
D - Denis dîne du dos d'un dodu dindon
E - Elise appelle son écureuil pour jouer avec son éléphant
F - Firmint construit un fort au pied de la falaise
G - Giséle a acheté des gàteaux pour son goûter
H - Hector regarde l'heure à l'horloge
I - Isabelle aime les images
J - Jean dans le jardin joue avec les jars
K - Kate admire son kangourou
L - Léopold sort avec sa lanterne pour attirer les lucioles
M - Martin avec médor garde ses moutons
M - Marguerite cueille du muguet au mois de mai
N - Nicolas a trouvé un nid dans un noisetier
O - Odile sous son ombrelle respire l'odeur des oiellets 
P - Pierre près du pont peche des poissons
P - Paulette dans son panier porte du pain aux poules
Q - Quentin qui a mal aux quenottes boit de la tisane des quattes fleurs
R - Rosine écoute de rossignol chanter sa romance
S - Sylvain a peur d'une souris cachée dans son cabot
S - Sophie sommeille sur le sopha du salon
T - Thomas joue à la toupie aux tuileries
U - Ursule utilise ses ustensiles de cuisine
V - Vincent ca au village vendre son veau
V - Virginie va rendre des visites
W - Wilhelmine en waterproof regarde par la portiére de wagon
X - Xavier boit den cachette un verre des xérés
Y - Yvon dans sa yole brandit son yatagan
Z - Zoé sur un zébre se proméne au jardin zoologique

For all those who are not so proficient in French, here in translation

A - Amelie and her donkey walk into the tree-lined avenue.
B - Bernard puts his boat in the bathtub.
C - Colette in her hut feeds her kid with poppies.
D - Denis dines off the back of a fat turkey.
E - Elise calls a squirrel to play with her elephant.
F - Firmint is building a fort at the foot of the cliff.
G - Giséle has bought cake for her snack.
H - Hector looks at the grandfather clock to see what time it is.
I - Isabelle likes pictures
J - Jean is playing with the geese in the garden.
K - Kate admires her kangaroo
L - Leopold goes outside with his lantern to attract the fireflies.
M - Martin with Medor tending his sheep
M - Marguerite is picking lilies of the valley in May.
N - Nicolas has found a nest in a hazelnut bush.
O - Odile breathes in the scent of carnations under her umbrella. 
P - Pierre is fishing for fish by the bridge.
P - Paulette carries bread in her basket to the chickens.
F - Quentin, whose little teeth are hurting, drinks herbal tea made from four herbs
R - Rosina listens to the nightingale singing her romance.
S - Sylvain is afraid of a mouse hiding in his pendant.
S - Sophie slumbers on the sofa in the living room.
T - Thomas is playing with a spinning top in the Tuileries.
U - Ursula uses her kitchen utensils.
V - Vincent goes to the village to sell his calf.
V - Virginie goes to visit
W - Wilhelmine looks out of the car door.
X - Xavier secretly drinks a glass of sherry.
Y - Yvon swings his yatagan in his dinghy.
Z - Zoe rides a zebra into the zoo.

Each picture tells a little story. Boys and girls are more or less in balance. The pictures tell of everyday things, but also of small fears (mice), as well as of forbidden things (secretly drinking sherry), of travelling, of children's playful and serious contact with animals, of being sick, of eating and resting, of sleeping and smelling, of listening and experiencing the world inside and outside.

The sayings are so easy to remember. The illustrations make it easy to learn the stories told, the mnemonic sayings. Often animals or objects are shown in the cut-out, I think this makes it clear that the scenes continue outside the pictures.

The children's clothing is mostly light and summery and varied, their hair is almost uniformly long and straight or curly, many children wear hats. 

What can be seen is a microcosm in which only children, animals and toys can be seen. The drawings are far from threatening or frightening. The children are not shown statically, but in motion. The illustrations are drawn with great attention to detail, depth is created by objects in the foreground, middle and background.

The cover illustration. Alphabet en Images, Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain
The cover illustration. Alphabet en Images, Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain
The cover illustration

Giséle in front of the patisserie

The girl on the title is called Giséle, we meet her again at the letter G in a different dress.

There we also learn that she has just bought something for her snack or afternoon coffee in a patisserie. It says: Giséle a acheté des gàteaux pour son goûter.

We can't see the contents, the patissier has elaborately wrapped it in white paper, with a ribbon around it. Giséle is holding the small package in her right hand, with an orange umbrella tucked under her left arm.

Giséle is elegantly dressed. Perhaps the first indicator of this are the white gloves on her hands. She is wearing a light orange dress printed with red hearts and with a black trimmed neckline. The dress has short arms and is laced at the waist. She wears a hat of the same colour with a black hatband. Giséle wears black shoes with white gaiters and short, light orange stockings with narrow, vertical red stripes to match the dress.

She has red, curly hair, small black button eyes and a doll-like small mouth and striking red cheeks. Whether it's because she's excited about shopping or because she's just a lively, healthy young girl, we don't know.

Behind Giséle, an elegant-looking, slender, white-and-black pied dog romps along the sand-coloured path in front of the patisserie. We can only guess if he belongs to her, his muzzle is turned towards her but there is no leash connecting the dog to Giséle.

It looks as if the elegant Giséle has just left the patisserie, you can see the shop with its pine-green painted façade directly behind her. Maybe it's even the door behind her, it's inscribed with the words Patisserie in decorative black and yellow striped letters diagonally, the windows shimmering bluishly. In the displays you can see some pastries, but not make them out clearly. There are some tomatoes in a pile on the left of the display, and an elaborate box on a shelf in the top centre of the shop window.

The illustration leaves a lot open, which is cause for joy for children and adults alike. There is a lot of room for imagination here.

Buchstabe A. Alphabet en Images, Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain
Buchstabe A. Alphabet en Images, Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain
The letter A

Amélie and her donkey

For the letter A, the original reads under the three-colour illustration: "A - Amélie et son Ane s'avancent dans l'allée plantee d'arbes". - Amelie and her donkey walk into the avenue planted with trees.

Stylishly, of course, the avenue leads to the inside of the book and not out of it. In the background, the grey donkey loaded with a white and red can be seen walking down the avenue. Against a tiered blue sky are grey trees and behind them a meadow surrounded by a white wooden fence. The trees bear red, pointed leaves, perhaps it is already autumn?

Amélie runs after the donkey. Amélie is carrying a doll in her hands. Maybe she wants to put the doll in the carrier?

Amélie is wearing a pretty light dress with a blue and red floral pattern on it, and she is wearing short white socks with red shoes. Her dark curly hair is covered by a knitted red cap. The doll wears a dress with a blue and red criss-crossing striped pattern. The doll has red socks with white shoes. Amélie's look seems a little surprised or astonished, but maybe I'm just imagining it.

In the foreground are a few tulips, some of them almost faded.

The letter B. Bernard and his bathtub. Alphabet en Images, Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain
The letter B. Bernard and his bathtub. Alphabet en Images, Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain
The letter B

Bernard and his bathtub

The illustration reads: "Bernard met son bateau dans la baignoire" - "Bernard puts his boat in the bathtub".

In front of an impressive, picture-perfect white and red square-tiled backsplash, we see Bernard bending over a grey, free-standing bathtub and launching his white sailboat. Parts of the sailboat are hidden by the edge of the bathtub, we don't know if there is more floating in the tub.

Bernard wears a white sailor suit, white socks and black shoes to match the sailboat and kneels with one leg on a green upholstered chair. We see no face of him, only the back of his head. Whether he is happy or not is left to the back of his head as a projection surface for our imagination. In the best sense of Billy Wilder, who once said that he would only film crying people from behind, because the sadness would then only arise in the viewer's mind.


Unschuldiger Kinderkosmos

As a mother of three children and practised in illustrating children's books for several years, Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain (or Madeleine-Amélie Franc-Nohain) creates an innocent cosmos all her own, full of ideas and imagination. She illustrates a child's life as it probably no longer exists in its innocence and peace and probably only existed like this for an elite at the time. In part, the children in the illustrations act like little adults, they go shopping on their own, take large animals out or for a walk (donkey, zebra), go to market with calves or travel alone by train.

Everything is non-violent and peaceful. The environment is discovered indoors and outdoors. The readers, adults or children, still have plenty of room and space to continue the stories or to play them out.

The mnemonics are beautifully worded and for me, with my knowledge of French, a real pronunciation and text exercise - even in this article (All the alt-key combinations for the French circumflex letters.).

Its almost 100 years of age does not show or tell on the book. It is a document of the design of the thirties of the 20th century worth seeing and reading and testifies to the high quality of the illustrations of this artist.

I would be very happy if this article would help her to become better known. Feel free to check out the other pages, the book is available digitally in the online archive of the Bibliothéque National de France.

Quelle: ZVAB, Antiquariat Franziska Bierl
Quelle: ZVAB, Antiquariat Franziska Bierl / Link :
First edition?

Other title and typography

Antiquariat Franziska Bierl

A wide range of children's books and decorative graphics as well as views and maps.

Hauptstraße 29
82547 Eurasburg
+49  8179 82 82

By chance I found another edition of Alphabet en Images on ZVAB after finishing the article. According to the antiquarian bookshop and the entry in the 1926 Cotsen Children's Library directory with entry number 3470, it is a 1923 edition. If so, this edition would have been published before the one above and they would have printed the above edition in a new edition afterwards. Unfortunately, both this and the above edition lack dates of printing.

The cover is clearly different from the - probably - later edition above. The image motif is not cut out squarely but oval, and instead of a grotesque an Egyptienne with strongly accentuated serifs is used. Both title and author are printed centred over the image. The chosen motif also differs from the second edition.

Here, Giséle from the letter G is not shown in front of the patisserie, but the illustration shows the two girls from the inside title sitting under a tree.

Many thanks to Franziska Bierl, from the antiquarian bookshop Franziska Bierl in Eurasburg, who kindly gave me permission to publish the picture here. This is not a matter of course for me. 

As of today, 18.02.2022, this edition can still be purchased at ZVAB. 

tl, dr;

I describe and analyse the children's book Alphabet en Images by the French illustrator and children's author Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain.

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