Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Misadventures of Gaspard and Lisa

Picture books in the The Misadventures of Gaspard and Lisa series, written by Anne Gutman and illustrated by Georg Hallensleben, are originally published in French but some are also available in other languages, including English, Spanish, and German. And although I own one in English and one in German, I thought it would be more fun to display the covers of the Japanese editions, for two reasons. First, I own three of them in Japanese, but only one in German and none in English. Second, Japan was where I discovered these books, and where I fell in love with the funny stories, appealing illustrations, and charming characters.

Lisa (for some reason renamed Lola in the Spanish and Nina in the German editions) and Gaspard (Lukas in the German editions) are dogs that -- with no explanation -- live like people, even though there are actual people in their world. Actually, in some of the illustrations they look a bit like rabbits because of their ears, but I think they're dogs based on their tails. Anyhow, Lisa and Gaspard are best friends who constantly get into adventures, or misadventures. Occasionally the books deal with slightly serious issues -- Lisa is jealous of her new baby sister, Gaspard has to spend the night in the hospital, etc. -- but it's always with a light and humorous touch.

Now, many of you may know that Japan is the World Capital of All Things Cute. They are more than happy to import and adopt whimsical characters from other countries and merchandise the heck out of them, producing stickers, little wallets, plush animals, pencils, notebooks, you name it. In any case, when my husband and I went to Japan last year for the World Science Fiction Convention, I wasn't buying pottery or dolls as souvenirs -- I was buying children's picture books. We'd been taking Japanese lessons one day a week for a year in preparation for our trip, and I thought picture books would be a fun way to supplement our learning. (OK, that's a bit of an excuse -- I just love picture books!) I'd already purchased several picture books original to Japan, which have just stunning illustrations.

And then I happened upon Lisa and Gaspard in a department store. Oh my.

I decided I would get just one. I mean, after all, they weren't native to Japan, and I'd already bought a lot of books that we would have to stow in our luggage. So I picked up Le petit chat de Lisa, or basically "Lisa's Little Cat" or "Lisa's Kitten" (this one hasn't been published in English, apparently). We have cats, and I was missing them while we were on our trip, and it seemed perfect. Plus, how funny is it that the little dog gets herself a kitten as a pet? I have actually transcribed the hirigana and katakana into romaji, which is the sort of phonetic translation of the characters into the Roman alphabet. I can pick out a word here and there, but I can't really read it, because Japanese is a challenging language and I had to stop the classes when I started my new job. But oh, it's adorable!

Then, the next day, we were in another bookstore, and their Lisa and Gaspard display had the most wonderful book, Gaspard et Lisa as musée, or Gaspard and Lisa at the Museum. Now, I'm into science fiction and space and dinosaurs... and this book showed the two little dogs among the dinosaur fossils in a museum. How could I not get this book? And although they're obviously for children, they have some sly humor that adults can enjoy. Lisa and Gaspard go on a school field trip to a museum, and are a little miffed when their human classmates jokingly say that they look like some of the extinct animals on display. So the little dogs decide to play a joke: they pose within the exhibit behind signs they make up saying "very rare animal (white)" and "very rare animal (black)". But then they accidentally get locked in the museum for the night!

So there I was, completely pleased with my two Japanese Gaspard and Lisa books, and guess what happened! The next store we went into had a book titled Gaspard et Lisa au Japon, or "Gaspard and Lisa in Japan" (unfortunately not published in English). Gaspard and Lisa, on the cover with cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji (Fuji-san) in the background!

I'm sure you see where this is going. But I couldn't help it! This book is priceless. It starts with Lisa and Gaspard on an airplane (with Lisa's family, I think). They arrive in Japan and stare out the taxi window at the hustle and bustle and lights of Tokyo. They stay in a traditional Japanese hotel, and are very entertained by the electric toilet. They struggle with chopsticks, and they accidentally knock a man into the rock/sand garden at a temple they visit. When the man ends up with a cast on his leg, they helpfully draw pictures of themselves, Japanese temples, and the Eiffel Tower on it so he will remember his new friends.

So, if you have children, or nieces and nephews, or any small child in your life for whom you buy gifts, you can't go wrong with Lisa and Gaspard. Several books in the series are available in English via Amazon, or at the library. There's one where Gaspard gets a puppy -- too funny! -- but I think it was only published in French. There's also one in which they both visit Venice, and another in which Lisa goes to visit her uncle in New York. These books really are delightful, and I hope some other adults out there enjoy them as much as I do.


mlaiuppa said...

You can get a lot of Gaspard and Lisa books on and, U.S. and Canada. The ones that aren't in English you can get in French. If not in the Canada amazon then at There are a few out of print that you can get used.

Japan is the capital for Gaspard et Lisa tchatchkies. I wish I could go there just to buy all of the stuff. Fabric, patches, buttons, badges, lanyards, netsuke, bento boxes and bags, totes, folders, bathroom suites and tons of stuff for the kitchen. I love all of the little figurines. You can't get any of it in the U.S. I found a Japanese website sort of like eBay but not really. Some of the shops there will ship to the U.S. but it's expensive. And I have to use googletranslate to do every single page to figure out the buttons and what information to enter. I did get a bento box and bag and a thermos.

In a few days the Japanes Department stores are going to have a month long display in honor of the 10th anniversary of Gaspard et Lisa. I so with I could go and see it. And stock up on stuff.

BTW there are two books in English that are translated from the French that are often overlooked: George and Lily. George is Jealous and Lily's bad Dream. But they are Gaspard and Lisa. I think maybe George and Lily were tried out as English translation names but later they decided to keep the original French names.

I came across a pattern to crochet my own characters. I'm going to try that soon.

Loved your blog entry.

mlaiuppa said...

And yes. My dog does look like Gaspard.