The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s enduring classic, The Little Prince, explores topics of great importance such as art, friendship, space travel, responsibility, proud flowers, and what a boa constrictor looks like after it has eaten an elephant. This cherished fable is narrated by a pilot whose plane crashed in the Sahara. After meeting the little prince in the desert, miles and miles from any inhabited place, our narrator gradually learns about the little prince’s travels and world view.
The little prince comes from Asteroid B-612, a very small planet where he dutifully cleaned out the miniature volcanoes and tended to his beloved flower. His flower had many demands, and her haughty manner made the little prince feel confused and manipulated. As a consequence, he decided to leave his home and go exploring.
Before coming to Earth, the little prince visits six asteroids, each inhabited by an archetypal representation of human nature. He visits the king, the conceited man, the tippler, the businessman, the lamplighter, and the geographer. Taken together, these characters offer an acerbic portrait of the grown-up world, as seen through the eyes of a child. The businessman, for example, is so consumed with counting the stars that he never has time to actually appreciate or admire them. The distorted perspective of the adult world seems perfectly encapsulated by his myopia and ignorance.
The antidote to the businessman’s attitude springs from the little prince’s philosophical mantra: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This notion is central to The Little Prince, and serves to remind the reader that very small or seemingly insignificant things often have great worth. As the little prince describes his experiences, our narrator is able to internalize this message and reclaim a lost part of himself – the tender, innocent part that was systematically suppressed when he was growing up. The pilot’s imagination and sense of wonder are rekindled as he spends time with the little prince. The story of their friendship is very sweet, and the accompanying illustrations are a nice addition to the text. While this is not a picture book, the illustrations are engaging and fit in well with the story.
The Little Prince is most commonly referred to as a classic children’s book, but I think it transcends that categorization. Certainly, there are many aspects which will appeal to kids (the story and illustrations, for example). However, there are subtle layers of meaning which make The Little Prince a great book for adults, as well. When read as a pseudo-Socratic dialogue, the philosophical elements of this endearing parable become more salient and quite affecting.
This book is generally recommended for grades 4 and up, but it could easily appeal to younger children, if read with an adult.