Max and Lili help your children
You don’t hear often about successful Swiss comics, and you probably have never heard of a Swiss comic that has sold more than 15 million comics of more than a hundred titles, and that is currently included in the official Swiss curriculum ?
Max et Lili is a series of educational comics for children, by sociologist Dominique de Saint Mains and artist Serge Bloch, which has taken the French-speaking world by storm since its inception in 1992. The books tell quite straightforward stories about two children, Lili and her younger brother Max, who are confronted by what can only be described as real-world problems. Sometimes these are everyday issues, like when the children want everything now, or when they watch too much television. Quite often, though, rather serious problems are tackled, such as alcoholism, divorce or, in the case of Lili a été suivie, pedophilia.
Around these subjects, a story is woven which is then illustrated in a very readable, simple style. To avoid the soap opera aspect of a limited number of characters encountering all kinds of trouble, over the years a whole cast has joined the two siblings in their daily adventures, from friends and family to people in the town and beyond. And rest assured, it’s not all woe : a lot of the books deal with upbeat themes, such as falling in love, typical children’s hobbies or going on a holiday.
Even though the books are meant (and often explicitly used) as educational tools, they’re not aimed at teaching young readers in a traditional sense. The stories are told in a very matter-of-fact fashion, without an obvious lesson. Every book ends in a number of questions, that the young reader can use to reflect on what’s just been told and how it relates to his or her own life.
It’s quite strange that there hasn’t been an English translation to these books, as their subjects are quite universal, and they are unavoidable in France, Belgium, the French-speaking regions of Canada and native Switzerland. When Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, was all wrapped up in the Dutroux scandal (after it was discovered that Marc Dutroux was the culprit behind the murder of four young girls), the aforementioned Lili a été suivie was widely used to talk about this with kids.
I think British and American kids are missing something here. Publishers, librarians and educators, take note!