The Little Prince: A Children Story for Adults

Springtime brings with it a celebration that unites the globe: International Children’s Book Day. Originating in 1967, this cherished tradition is primarily celebrated by schools and libraries, which each year a wide range of creative programs are put in place to spark a passion for reading among young minds. For them, books serve as an unrivalled vehicle, expanding children's horizons and sparking the magic of imagination. Yet, an intriguing trend has emerged: Adults are rediscovering their affection for children's literature, with classics like The Little Prince captivating the hearts of the grown-up audience anew. Here's why.

The Little Prince Recently Just Turned 80

Since the publication of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s famous tale, “The Little Prince”, in 1943, several generations of children and adults have been captivated by its story. The book just celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2023, and the world-wide fanfare demonstrated just how impactful the book and its characters remain today. On 20 September 2023, Catherine Colonna, the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and Olivier d’Agay, grand-nephew of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, unveiled the bronze sculpture of the Little Prince at the entrance to the garden of the Villa Albertine, the French bookshop and headquarters of the cultural services of the French Embassy in the United States, located at 972 Fifth Avenue. The project, created by French sculptor Jean-Marc de Pas, was made possible through a collaboration between the American Society of Le Souvenir Français and the Antoine de Saint Exupéry Youth Foundation.

French sculptor Jean-Marc de Pas holding "The Little Prince statue.
Photo Credit: Le Petit Prince

The 1m20 sculpture was sculpted in clay and cast in bronze in a single piece in the sculptor’s studio in Normandy, France. The Little Prince has been installed in the garden of the historic Payne Whitney Mansion, facing passers-by on Fifth Avenue. A Gilded Age architectural masterpiece built by Stanford White between 1902 and 1906, the building was acquired by France in the 1950s and now serves as the New York headquarters of the Villa Albertine.

A photo of The Little Prince statue.
Photo Credit: Hyperallergic

“This statue is amazingly successful with a Little Prince who is both innocent and clever,” explains Olivier d’Agay, grand-nephew of Antoine de Saint Exupéry in Ouest France, “The Little Prince is an ambassador of hope, culture, childhood, protection of the planet.” 

While dozens of plaques and statues around the world commemorate the author of The Little Prince, this statue is the first of its scale in Manhattan, an area Saint Exupéry left just a few weeks before the book was published.

Where does the Little Prince come from? 

If you ask him, he comes from Asteroid B-612, a planet not much bigger than a house—which begs the question of where he stores his rather extensive wardrobe! His creator maintained that he one day looked down on what he thought was a blank sheet of paper, to discover the tiny figure. “I asked him who he was,” Saint-Exupéry reported. “I’m the Little Prince,” announced his visitor.

A black-and-white photo of Saint-Exupéry.
Photo Credit: La Presse

The reality is a little more complicated. Saint-Exupéry was a famed French aviator and author, who found himself grounded in New York City during World War II when Germany invaded France in 1940. Despite a warm welcome in NYC due to his publishing success, he found himself gnarling at his exile. He wrestled with self-doubt, longing for his home, and the physical toll of past crashes. His publishers did an incredible job to inspire him to dabble into writing his first Children’s Book. The Little Prince was born. Not from striking inspiration coming from the writing gods but from this melancholic time in the US where he felt home-sick, out-of-place and riddled with the sad times of war exile. The themes of the story hovered around Saint Exupery’s usuals. His characters, like the rose and the aviator himself, had appeared in his writings before. Even the act of escape, a core feature of the Little Prince's journey, resonated with Saint-Exupéry's own yearning.

How much did Saint-Exupéry resemble his hero? “You are an extraterrestrial” a New York friend informed him several years before the book’s conception. “Yes, yes, it is true, I sometimes go for walks among the stars,” admitted Saint-Exupéry, laughing. Attempting in 1939 to describe him, his publisher allowed that he was basically “a lonely, but an infinitely friendly soul, sophisticated and yet child-like.” Sounds familiar?

A black-and-white photo of Saint-Exupéry writing on paper.
Photo Credit: Chemins de Memoire

The Little Prince's whimsical adventures – leaving his tiny asteroid, encountering peculiar adults on other planets, and befriending a fox in the desert – mirrored Saint-Exupéry's critiques of society woven into a fantastical tale. The book's creation was far from smooth sailing.  He battled deadlines, revised relentlessly, and even his publisher found the manuscript perplexing.  First published in New York in both English and French in 1943, reviews were initially mixed, with some praising its originality and others unsure of its audience.

In 1944, Saint Exupery disappeared as silently as his golden-haired alter ego had vanished in the desert. Returning to Corsica from a July 31 reconnaissance mission, Saint-Exupéry plunged into the Mediterranean at high speed. Twenty-five days later, Paris was liberated. The aircraft was recovered only in 2004; the cause of the crash is unclear.

The Little Prince book cover art
Photo Credit: Le Petit Prince

Despite the initial lukewarm reception, The Little Prince ended up transcending expectations.  Published posthumously in France in 1946 after his disappearance (the book weirdly predicts it!) it resonated with readers seeking solace in a war-torn world. The book's poignant message about love, friendship, and the importance of looking beyond the surface has ensured its place as a timeless classic. So much so, in fact, that it went to outsell every other book on the planet except the Bible. Today, you can read The Little Prince in 270 languages, in 26 different alphabets and it continues to touch hearts and challenge perspectives, a testament to Saint-Exupéry's ability to weave his own experiences with universal truths.

What is it about?

Sometimes called a fairy tale, other times classified as a fable or even a sci-fi novella, “The Little Prince '' is the Children’s book telling the story of a pilot who crashed in the Sahara Desert. While there, he meets a rather strange boy, called The Little Prince.

An art of The Little Prince standing on the Sahara desert.
Photo Credit: Public Seminar

The Little Prince is from an asteroid called B-612; and is on a journey across the universe which led him right here on Planet Earth. Before landing here, we learn he encountered a cast of peculiar adults on different planets (each representing a flaw in human nature: a king with no subjects, a conceited man, a drunkard, and a businessman obsessed with ownership). Disillusioned by these encounters, the prince crash-landed on Earth.

The pilot learns about the prince's life on his asteroid, where he cares for a unique rose. The prince, however, feels a growing disconnect from his rose and decides to leave. On Earth, the prince develops a bond with a fox who teaches him valuable lessons about friendship and love. The fox explains that the prince's rose is special because of the time and love he has invested in her. 

With newfound understanding, the prince realizes his deep affection for his rose and yearns to return to her. The pilot helps him achieve this by building a hot air balloon. As the prince departs, he leaves the pilot with a poignant reminder: "what is essential is invisible to the eye."

Themes, Symbols and Lessons

The symbolism in this book is omnipresent.

The Little Prince himself can be thought to represent childlike wonder, innocence, and the untamed spirit that often fades with age. His travels symbolize a quest for meaning, connection, and a return to that youthful perspective.

A beautiful artwork of The Little Prince standing surrounded by different animals.
Photo Credit: MyMiniFactory

Throughout his encounters, the prince unlocks valuable lessons through powerful symbols:

  • The Rose: This delicate flower embodies love's complexities. Her demanding nature teaches the prince about nurturing and the importance of seeing beyond appearances.
  • The Fox: A symbol of wisdom, the fox teaches the prince about the art of "taming" – building genuine relationships through time, trust, and shared experiences.
  • The Snake: Representing the cycle of life and mortality, the snake offers cryptic wisdom, reminding us to cherish each moment and contemplate the deeper meaning of existence.

Other symbols offer insights into human nature and societal pitfalls:

  • The Elephant in the Boa Constrictor: This misunderstood drawing highlights the limitations of rigid perspectives. It encourages us to embrace imagination and look beyond the obvious.
  • The Baobab Trees: These invasive trees symbolize unchecked negativity. The prince's vigilance in uprooting them reminds us to confront destructive influences before they take root.
An artwork of different characters from The Little Prince.
Photo Credit: David Evan

The prince also encounters characters trapped in their pursuits:

  • The King: This is the first adult the prince encounters. Despite his grand pronouncements and desires to be obeyed, the king has no real subjects to rule. His insistence on having them, even demanding that the prince act as one, highlights the dangers of desiring power for its own sake. The king represents those who prioritize outward appearances and control over genuine connection and purpose.
  • The Astronomer: Obsessed with counting stars, he represents the limitations of academic knowledge without genuine connection to the world.
  • The Geographer: Representing the dangers of theoretical knowledge, the geographer has never explored the world he claims to understand.
  • The Businessman: This planet represents materialism and the relentless pursuit of possessions. The businessman's obsession with counting and owning stars exemplifies the hollowness of a life focused solely on acquisition. This is a critique of the world we live in.
An art of a flower in the desert from The Little Prince with the sun in the background.
Photo Credit: Waterstones

The desert setting itself plays a significant role; the harsh environment underscores the importance of the encounter between the pilot and the prince. It serves as a reminder that challenging times can often lead to unexpected growth and new perspectives. In the desolation, a unique friendship blossoms, reminding us that moments of connection can be found even in the most unexpected places.

A Children’s story for Grown-ups

The story's overarching theme is undoubtedly the importance of cultivating childlike curiosity and seeing the world with fresh eyes. 

As children we get told to use our imagination all day long - as it should be. But it’s when we’re all grown-up that we’re perhaps most in need of a reminder. For some reason, we’ve lost this ability that came so naturally to us as children.

For me, that’s what The Little Prince is all about. It’s about taking a step back and realising that sometimes we take adult life a tad too seriously and we forget the true meaning of life. As adults, we tend to sometimes drown ourselves in what we think society expects of us while giving up what makes life worth-living: love, relationships and imagination.

That’s why The Little Prince is a timeless story. It is one of those books that can be read hundreds of times and yet newly found wisdom can be uncovered every time based on where you are in life. Its symbolism, its artwork, and the enduring themes explored can lead to exciting aha moments and enrich our own lives, but also those of others. It’s also a gentle rumination on loss, and how to empathize with the loss that others are feeling. These lessons are ones that remain vitally important today.

C.S. Lewis once wrote "One day, you will be old enough to read fairly tails again” and, on this year’s International Children’s Book Day’s occasion, the 1000 Libraries editorial team encourages you to revisit The Little Prince whether by yourself or with your children & family. A book that is perhaps the best proof that, for a book to be impactful, one does not have to be highly complex in prose, style or long in page; it just has to be simple enough to touch your heart. 

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