I first became aware of Barbapapa a few years ago when visiting the children’s sock department of my local H&M. Assuming they were a piece of hip retro Swedish kitsch, my children spent the next couple of years hoofed in the blobby little shape shifters.
Turns out Barbapapa is real 70s retro kitsch, which in childhood devoted to consuming everything low culture had to throw at me I had somehow missed. Created in France by Annette Tilson and Talus Taylor, Barbapapa comes from ‘barbe à papa’ meaning father’s beard, the french name for candy floss.
The books are a grab bag of ideas taken from the Moomins and Barbar with heavy handed environmental messages tacked on. But there’s something about the whole shoddy enterprise that I still rather love, and children absolutely adore; the colours taken straight out of a starter pack of Woolies' felt tip pens; the family’s ability to shape shift into anything from a husky and sledge to a Christmas tree.
Barbapapas’ Christmas sees the family take delivery of their presents from Santa not on a sleigh but by cloud. The gifts reflect each of the children’s interests, in music, fashion, science and in the case of Barbazoo, animals. Santa sees fit to present him with a giant crate full of exotic creatures, quite unsuited to their new wintry home.
So the blobbies set about chopping down their forest to heat their house to tropical temperatures, something that doesn’t go down well with the local wildlife.
And they’re at it again in Barbapapa C’est Noel (1974), putting the woodland folk out of a home in search of the perfect Christmas tree.
One of the great attractions of these books are the cross sections of Barbapapas bulbous home. This cosy warren of womb like burrows is even more inviting when covered in a thick coating of snow.
If you’d like to create your very own cross section of the Barbapapas’ house, or you’ve massively failed to buy your child a present, then I recommend you pay a visit to Playing By the Book, whose papier mache and fimo creations are absolute genius.