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 first published on March 29, 1959. The books depict an idealized version of childhood in 1950s France.
The work started out as a comic strip, which initially ran in Le Moustique between 1956 and 1958, drawn by Sempé and written by Goscinny.
The books are told from the point of view of Nicolas himself, which gives the book a distinct and personal sense of humor. The narration is a pastiche of childish storytelling, with run-on sentences and schoolyard slang used in abundance, and much of the humor derives from Nicolas' misunderstanding of adults' behavior. At the same time, adults are as much a target of the book's satire as children, as the straightforward and uncomplicated worldview of the child narrator exposes the flaws of adult perception. This subversive element in Le petit Nicolas made it an early example of modern children's literature that is centered on the experience of the child's interpretation of the world, rather than an adult's.
The characters from the French edition include (with names from Anthea Bell's 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 (Mr Goodman), is known as "le Bouillon" ("Old Spuds").
The two main characters of another comic series by Goscinny, Iznogoud, begin to take shape in the episode when Nicolas is in summer camp. He and the other children are forced to take a nap, so the conselor tells them a story about "a caliph who was a very good man but who had a very evil vizier...", then tells how the caliph dresses as a common man to find out what people think of him, and the evil vizier takes his place.
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.
In this version, M. Dubon (nicknamed "le Bouillon") becomes Mr. Goodman (nicknamed "Old Spuds"). He derives his nickname from his habit of repeating constantly: "Look me in the eye." In French broth (bouillon) has eyes (blobs of fat on the surface), in the English version they become potato eyes. In the story 'Djodjo', the English exchange student becomes Flemish, and his nickname is changed from "Djodjo" to "Djocky".
Another English translation of Le petit Nicolas, with the title The Chronicles of Little Nicholas, was published in New York by Farrar, Straus Giroux in 1993. The translator is not named in this edition; the copyright page attributes copyright for the translation to Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
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.
For Latin America, the books were published by Alfaguara. Names for this edition were: Nicolas,Clotario, Alcestes, Eudes, Godofredo, Agnan, Joaquín, Majencio, Rufo, Eduviges, Luisa, Rex. "Le Bouillon" becomes "el Caldo", even though this expression is not commonly used in Latin America.