Molesworth or Nicolas: schoolboy humour English or French style

There are two books in the Education in Literature Collection which are over sixty years old but still provide amusement. Both were originally written for a young audience but they can still be appreciated by adults. They are examples of books which present a child’s view of the world – quite a radical idea at the time.

Down with Skool! purports to be written by its central character Nigel Molesworth. It describes his life at the horrible prep school St Custards where he has to deal with Masters who are fond of the ‘kane’. Molesworth writes on school food, lessons, his fellow pupils and ‘gurls’. Humour arises from the terrible spelling, erratic capitalisation and schoolboy slang . In reality this book and several sequels were written by Geoffrey Willans (1911-1958 ) with illustrations by Ronald Searle (1920 – 2011).


Nicholas is a translation by Anthea Bell of a book first published in French by Rene Goscinny (1926-1977) in 1960 as Le Petit Nicolas. The illustrations are by Jean –Jacques Sempe (1932- ). It is the first in a series of books portraying a charming but idealized 1950s childhood. The humour is gentler and perhaps aimed at a younger audience than Down with Skool. There is also a DVD available of the 2009 film  Petit Nicolas.

NicolasLe petit nicolas

Both books benefit greatly from the quality of their illustrations. Ronald Searle was already well known as the creator of St Trinian’s School. Indeed Nigel Molesworth could be seen as a brother of one of the school girls of St Trinian’s. Sempe drew on his own childhood influences and memories to illustrate ‘Le Petit Nicolas’.

I can see a modern 8 or 9 year old enjoying reading Down with Skool! for himself. His father or grandfather might enjoy it for its nostalgia value. However I think that Nicholas would be great for reading aloud to younger children. Each short chapter is about a situation which is still recognisable today- The School Photograph or the Day of the Inspectors Visit.’ Somehow  gentle mayhem is the result when Nicholas is around.’

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