Ready for story time?
Some of my fondest memories from elementary school were the weekly trips to the library for story time.
During each visit, we would sit on the carpet while the librarian read us a story, modulating her voice and showing us the pictures.
It was relaxing, enjoyable and certainly contributed to my present-day love of literature.
But story time is not just important for a kid’s education. Reading short stories can also be a powerful French learning technique at any age.
French short stories introduce you to new vocabulary, acclimate you to verb tenses and familiarize you with French in-context.
Many of these even have pictures and audio narration (three cheers for listening comprehension practice!).
Sitting on the carpet is optional, though.
Important French Vocab for Reading Short Stories
Before we jump into specific stories, let’s go over some words that could be helpful as you read and explore French short stories on your own.
Starting with the basics, the French word for a short story is une nouvelle.
But you might have something more specific in mind.
Perhaps you are curious to read un conte de fées (a fairy tale) or une fable (a fable) in French.
Or maybe you are looking for something different and exciting, such as une histoire de revenants/fantômes (a ghost story).
It could also be helpful to know how to talk about what you read. After all, crucial individuals in any literary work are l’écrivain (the writer) or l’auteur (the author) and le personnage (the character).
Keep in mind that un personnage refers to a person in a book, film or TV show. The proper French term for “character” in the sense of personality traits is le caractère.
6 Easy French Short Stories You’ll Want to Read Again and Again
“Fables Choisies Pour Les Enfants” (“Selected Fables for Children”)
Speaking of fables, here you will find a digitized French children’s book containing brief stories based on Aesop’s fables.
If you are not sure where to start, check out one of the more well-known fables: “Le Lièvre et La Tortue” (“The Hare and the Tortoise”). True to its genre, “Le Lièvre et La Tortue” uses animal characters to illustrate the dangers of pride.
The good news: this story is only one page long and most stories in the book are similarly a mere one or two pages long.
To make things even easier, there are several pictures to accompany the narration. As you are learning, there is no shame in using pictures along with the text to help you understand what is happening.
The (somewhat) bad news: as this version was published in 1888 and is based on the writings of 17-century French poet Jean de la Fontaine, you will probably notice that certain words and grammatical structures are not what you would expect.
One common difference you might notice in these stories, including “Le Lièvre et La Tortue,” is that instead of the ne… pas construction being employed for “not,” the writer employs ne… point, which has the same meaning, but is a more archaic and literary form.
Do not let some of these anomalies intimidate you, though. With patience and attentiveness, you can still enjoy and benefit from these stories.
“Le Petit Pianiste” (“The Little Pianist”)
This story has a simple plot and is great for beginner or upper-beginner learners.
“Le Petit Pianiste” revolves around a young boy who dreams of becoming a great pianist. In light of an upcoming concert, his teacher gives him a special piece of advice.
Tip: As you might notice in the video, le piano (the piano) refers to the whole instrument, while le clavier (the keyboard) designates the keys themselves.
This story comes from Bookbox French, an organization that creates animated video stories in several languages in order to promote literacy. Better yet, it is available on FluentU, which means you get tons of extra personalized learning tools as well.
For instance, there are interactive subtitles. Click any word for an instant definition, grammar info and useful examples.
After you watch the video, FluentU provides flashcards and fun quizzes to make sure you remember everything you learned. You will also find a vocabulary list and full transcript.
To check out all those learning features—and hundreds of other authentic French videos, like movie trailers, music videos and inspiring speeches—you can sign up for a free FluentU trial.
“La Symbiose” (“Symbiosis”)
This is another Bookbox story, albeit with a very different setting and theme. As the title implies, “La Symbiose” illustrates how different animals benefit one another.
The key characters include un zèbre (a zebra) named Zippo, puces (fleas) and two oiseaux (birds). Might as well take advantage of the opportunity to review some animal names in French.
Zippo finds himself utterly infested with fleas and is unable to free himself until he befriends two birds.
French subtitles are provided and you can toggle English captions on or off.
“Cendrillon” is perhaps the most well-known fairy tale of all. It is the famous story of a young woman who is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters, but ends up marrying a prince.
This rendition makes for a longer story than most of the others mentioned here, coming out to just over 14 minutes of audio.
The native-speaker narration is followed by a transcript. You also have the option of seeing an English translation for each individual paragraph.
If you enjoy the layout of this version, the site, The Fable Cottage, has a few other stories you can check out.
“Chat Botté” (“Puss in Boots”)
You might recognize the character “puss in boots” from the Shrek films.
In the classic tale, a young man is disappointed because he receives nothing but a cat from his father’s inheritance. However, this shrewd cat turns out to be extremely useful to the man and even enables him to marry the king’s daughter.
The story is not very long, and it gives you an easy introduction to an unusual but important French past tense: the passé simple (simple past). This tense has the same function as the passé composé (compound past), but is only used in writing, generally in literature.
Keep in mind that the passé simple is never used in conversational French and even some modern novels do not employ it due to its more archaic nature.
It may be a bit intimidating at first, but this is a prime opportunity to get comfortable with a somewhat rare verb tense.
Another learning boost: this story comes with audio narration, allowing you to practice listening comprehension, and it is also accompanied by a transcript.
“Aux Champs” (English Title: “The Adopted Son”)
If you are in for something more dark and thought-provoking, look no further than “Aux Champs,” a short story from famous French author Guy de Maupassant.
This is the story of two poor families living in the same village when a rich couple comes to visit. As they cannot have children themselves, they offer to adopt one of the poor children and pay the parents generously.
One family utterly rejects the offer, but another accepts. The narrative details the consequences that ensue as the two boys grow up—one with his biological parents and one whose parents gave him away.
Full disclosure: this story is one of the more challenging stories on this list, due to its literary and older language style (19th century). For instance, as with “Chat Botté” above, you will encounter the passé simple.
“Aux Champs” is definitely on the serious side, but it is a fascinating and well-known story. If you really enjoy it, you can even go the extra mile and watch the hour-long film based on this course of events.
Voilà! (There it is!) Your introduction to French short stories.
As with your language learning journey, these easy French stories are just the beginning. Several of these resources have even more stories available, so open your browser and get reading!
Rachel Larsen is a lifelong francophile and freelance writer who dreams of living in France one day. She’s currently a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. To learn more, visit her LinkedIn page.
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