Croatian Laundry (c) Kristin Espinasse
Once a year, I do admit, that I wonder whether the simple life... is a life without books (there, I said it! read on, in today's story column...). Photo taken in the Croatian town of Rovinj.

recouvrir (reuh-koo-vreer) verb

    : to cover (a book)

There are many more senses to today's verb. We'll focus on only one for today, in keeping in theme with today's story. However, please feel free to add more meanings to "recouvrir" -- by adding additional definitions and examples in the comments box. Merci d'avance!

Audio File & Example Sentence: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the following words: Download Wav file or Download MP3

Protégez vos livres scolaires: recouvrez-les!
Protect your school books: cover them!

Verb conjugation: je recouvre, tu recouvres, il recouvre, nous recouvrons, vous recouvrez, ils recouvrent => pp = recouvert

My French Coach by Nintendo. Playing My French Coach for 15 to 20 minutes a day is all you need to become fluent in French, no matter your age. The simple touch screen interface lets you spend less time learning the game and more time learning French.



A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

Comment recouvrir un livre scolaire?

Normally this time of year I am recovering from recovering: recovering school books, that is, with a roll of slippery plastic protective wrap. Instead of going into a boring technical explanation on How to Cover a Book -- and how unnerving it can be when using plastic -- I would like to challenge you to cover a book today. If you do not have the special plastic book wrap, pas de souci,* you can recycle a plastic shopping bag.

One of the first things you'll notice, having set your book down, over the plastic cut-out, is how everything starts to shift and slip, and how your au pif* calculations are, somehow, amiss (this, you'll discover later, on trying, in vain, to close the book and, conversely, to open it). Why is it that the book remains obstinately ajar?And, on closing the book -- after you have recalculated and re-taped -- why is it that the book won't open? Instead, all of the pages are locked-in -- or bound at the top and bottom -- just like the book's spine! I give up: ask an origami expert or a mathematician. 

Back, now,  to that slippery, impossible-to-fold the plastic: having been, plus ou moins,* wrapped around the book, it must now be fastened, only (here's the glitch) not to the book -- or risk une amende!*  For this, you'll need an acrobatic arm in time to hold down those stubborn folds and wrestle with the tape dispenser, which gives out the @#itty self-sticking tape, the tape that's now got the fingers of your formerly free hand stuck together.

To give you an idea of the anophelosis* inherent in covering a book -- a tradition in France that was invented to flummox and frustrate even the most composed and elegant of Frenchwomen, see this French commercial. (If you are reading from the newsletter, please click over to the blog. Note: the first five seconds are most relevant -- the rest is an advertisement for a book-covering machine; indeed, who wouldn't buy a pricey contraption in order to avoid this madness?)


Note: I used the exact same plastic wrap that the lady used in scene one... only I can throw it farther than she can.

Postnote: As I said "normally this time of year I would be recovering from recovering". Only, this year, as you know, I am on a not-so-rigid self-improvement regime which includes the goal of learning how to delegate (and so I relinquished control and perfection and let the kids cover their books this year!). Amazingly the books turned out just fine, if a bit bumpy inside the covers....

Secondly, the kids informed me that we ended up paying the ten euro amend anyway (after I covered their books last year....)

Finally: did you know they sell pre-made book covers? I found this out much later, after we ran out of plastic wrap; that's when Max informed me that he had a leftover cover from last year (I don't even remember buying it! Perhaps the teacher took pity on him for the chaotic covering on his books and gave him the protective slip-jacket?).

Oh, the trouble we put ourselves through... in the end, it is we who are all wrapped up in the sticky tape! Just we, and our straight-jacketed stubbornness -- for isn't it craziness to always want to do it rigidly right, and only by ourselves? Aren't we sometimes better off with just a little bit of help?

Your turn. Tell us about your book-covering (or similar) capers. Are you the type to pull out the tape and scissors and cover a book yourself... or would you buy a pre-made book cover, if one existed?  Thank you for using the comments box to respond to these posts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~
pas de souci
= no worries; au pif = "by the nose" (by guesswork); plus ou moins = more or less; une amende (f) = fine; anophelosis (an English word... I had to look it up -- for what other word could describe this particular "morbid state brought about by extreme frustration"?



First day outside for the puppies.... taken 5 days ago.


Cartes Postales: A Delightful Album for Postcards

Jolee's Boutique Paris Stickers : good for notebooks, art boards...

French Wooden Alphabet Blocks

"Fluenz French": Next-Generation French Language Learning Software

Second day out for the pups, who turned three weeks old, Saturday night. That's my brother-in-law "Uncle Jacques" a.k.a. The Puppy Whisperer. Jacques has a seventh sense when it comes to animals. I'm so thankful he's here to help us (he even came over in the middle of the night to assist our nurse (his brother, or "Chef Grape"), deliver the pups. The kids and I were too freaked out to be of any assistance.

This next photo is blurry, but too sweet to leave out:

Man's Best Friends

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Cynthia in the French Alps

I'm a cat owner/lover but do love dogs too. I've even spent my fair share of time volunteering for cat rescue nonprofits and feeding several litters of strays. But these puppies are some of the cutest, sweetest things I've ever seen. I wish we had enough land and had a dog-sitter at our disposal because both Bernard and I would love to have a blonde or black lab. You have your hands full. Cynthia

Beth in Alsace

I'm laughing out loud right now, because last night I just finished covering my kids' books. Last year I was able to find those pre-made covers that made things somewhat easier...but to a virgin recouvrice like myself, it was still a challenge. This year, horror of all horrors, I couldn't find the pre-made covers. Probably had something to do with me waiting until 7pm on a Saturday night to find some at my neighborhood Leclerc (no Sunday hours in this neck of the woods). So, yes, I feel your pain.


I still remember the frustration of book-covering 50 years ago! We were forbidden to use scotch tape to hold on the covers, which were made from old brown-paper grocery bags. C'est interressant to discover this is a world-wide way of torturing school kids and their mothers.

P.S. It seemed to me that the actress demonstrating that marvelous machine looked like you! Are you moon-lighting?


I would definitely lean toward the ease and speed of using the book covering machine. I'm all about contraptions (as you could tell by looking in my cupboards) plus the kids could run their own book covering business for their friends and "recover" the cost of the machine!! Thanks for adding the puppy pics. They are too cute!


I remembered covering books with brown paper grocery bags when I was a kid. I've bought the pre-made sleeves for my son over the years. He used them in middle school, but is evidently too cool for that in high school.

I am making great strides for holding him accountable to the decisions he makes. If something happens to a book, he will have to be responsible for it. That's actually pretty unlikely - many of the classrooms have a "classroom set" of text books so they don't have to carry around the student's official copy (so the book never leaves the house).


I remember using one of my favorite materials: oilcloth.
Do (?hardware) stores in France have those rolls of oilcloth? I love the simplistic designs best.

Kris Hendrickson

We (Royal we, more husband) just did my Grandson's books well the couple he has brought home so far. His teacher didn't give us the supplies list until the day of the rentree. So if we don't have the right paper they will have to wait until I can find it as the local SuperU was all out. In the next village the school asks for sticky backed plastic. UGH!

Linda R.

I'm a newly retired educator and my own children are grown and gone so my days of covering books or reminding students to do the same are behind me - thank heaven! I did like using the oilcloth though - I'm glad you reminded me.

Just commenting on your first reflection - wondering if the simple life is a life without books. I would say that the simple life would be a life without the technology that seems to have engulfed us. I love it - it keeps me connected - and yet it can be very isolating as well. All things in moderation I suppose.

Your puppies are beautiful!


When I was at school - forty years ago - all books HAD to be covered in brown paper. Later, when I was teaching, left-over wallpaper was a popular, colourful choice with the children.

Connie Venskus

Please don't throw plastic wrap at me, but I love covering books. As a child in a Catholic grammar school, I learned from the nuns how to cover books and used to do it for them in the summer before school started. When my two sons (now 25 and 31) were in school I always looked forward to the first week of school ritual of covering books. I now substitute at our local high school and when there is a free period I go to the school library to help out and guess what my favorite job is! Yep! Covering books! And if you think covering school books is tricky, you should experience the special way that library books are covered. I love the challenge!


Here, here! Three cheers to you, dear K for passing along the book-covering to the children! Delegation, delegation, delegation. Repetez!

Perfection is an interesting concept. It's genesis lies deep, deep somewhere in the gut of self worth. It is a rather dark place and gloomy, full of eerie imposing shadows, mysterious and fathomless. From this place shine a huge light and make your way back through the pits and traps of misidentification to your true self: the reflection of Divine Light that you are. Breathe. Open to the possibility of being that which you are, just one of the rest of us trying to make it through along life's goofy path. One day at a time and--like you wrote earlier--sometimes it seems like 2 steps forward, 3 back. Truly, you are on that path, it is clear to see, each day as you write with open mind and heart to convey la vie francaise.

It is nice to come along with you; toujours, chere Kristin, tu es dans ma coeur.

The puppy pics are adorable. First time I have seen the beautiful frere-in-law. I have written, and backspaced away, the musings of my racey little old lady mind! See? two steps fwd, et trois back!


Someone in the US is making a bunch of money with their solution to the book covering challenge - covers made of stretchy material in ever color of the rainbow and design you or the kids could ever want, and in sizes small, medium & large. Rip open the plastic packaging, stretch to fit over front and back covers, and voila! A fairly-well protected book for $1 and 5 seconds of your time . . . and because my kids don't join their many friends who get a thrill out of wearing them like hats or destroying them on the last day of school in June, we've reused some of ours 2 & 3 years now! You'll have to stock up on your next trip to the US...maybe you'll start a new fad in France:)

Christine Jackson

This story makes me laugh. We lived in Belgium in 2001 and sent our kids to French school. I remember the school supply list coming home and I was baffled. I could only speak a little French, but what was more difficult is that the lists were hand-written and I couldn't read the writing. I tried to look the words up in the dictionary, but I swear that at least 50% of the words weren't listed, so when it came to the book recovering difficulty I had serious concerns about whether or not I had understood the directions (now I see that maybe I wasn't alone). Thankfully in the US we now have pre-made book covers of stretchy lycra-type material that easily slip over the books, last for years and only costs $1 per cover!

Loved the pictures of your family in Croatia!

Betty Bailey

Kristen, I love the picture of your family (minus Max) on Cinema Verite.

As for book covers, I remember making some out of brown paper when I was very young but later they were available for purchase with all manner of patterns from which to choose! Maybe Jean-Paul can stash some in his suitcase next visit to the US.


I was a perfectionist when covering books with brown paper bags. The corners had to fold exactly right and when it was done right you did not need to tape it.
While teaching, my school had book covers available for the students which had advertisements on them as well as the school logo and mascot.
You can draw or write on the brown paper but not on plastic - c'est domage!

The puppies are soooo cute. I wish that I could have a golden retriever - they are so beautiful/ hansom and great dogs - but I travel too much.

Jennifer Jaffe

Those puppies are so precious that it is enough to give someone
puppy fever for want of one!
I can still remember the smell of the brown paper bags as I covered
my school books. The sense of smell is certainly one of our senses
that stays longest in our memories.
I want to thank you Kristin for recommending Smart French. It isn't
like anything else I have seen before and it has helped me
understand something that was rather elusive. The concept of
the liason I get but it was that funny sound linked to the back
of words that was eluding me. I have even asked several of my
teachers who responded "you don't really want to know that" or
that is not proper French"
In the Smart French CDs (intermediate/advanced level) one of
the examples is il faudra que je le mette... Now this sounds
like eefaudrak zhle mett. It was that strong K sound that was
so mysterious to me in the past. I could hear French natives
using it but nobody would explain it to me for fear of
contaminating my student French. Ca me rend folle!
These CDs are based solely on the sound of French and are a
welcome addition to my library
I picked up some of your Minstral wine and want to comment on
the beautiful presentation of these bottles. I will put them
aside for three weeks so they can recover from their bottle
shock and then share them with friends who are also
French Word Of The Day fans.
Merci mille fois

Ahulani McAdam

Hello, dear Kristin,
First let me say that I was shocked to see that it was a Mom who was in charge of covering books! What a change from days of old. There was NO WAY my mom would have done that job. Bless your soul for passing it on. I went to a Catholic girls' school and those clever nuns made it part of our curriculum to cover our books. (We used oilcloth and Contact paper...the latter ruined the books, but it was new and we didn't know, though we sure found out!) Anyway, I remember struggling the night before school (of course I had left it all 'til about and hour before bedtime on Sunday night.. a pattern I continue to this day and my mom just let me get in trouble the next day.Ugh. I do remember that it got somewhat easier as the years went by and I discovered some knacks to the whole process. The clear plastic was just awful and if it is regulation for your kids in France, then God, I would PAY someone to do it!! In any case, covering books for me became fun as I got to pick out my pattern that I would use for the year. I do remember the fun (and competitive envy) of the big reveal, when we showed up with our choices and handiwork. My best success in the technical aspect was the brilliant choice of oil cloth with tiny checks. I picked it because it matched my uniform, but the coolest discovery was those straight lines! I just whipped through the task that year. Indeed I achieved perfection!

Needless to say, a whole life lived according to an oilcloth grid is not particularly rewarding (witness the puppies) but still, sometimes, there is great satisfaction in the intersection of straight lines.

Thank you everyone for the fun of this topic. And a prayer for all young mothers everywhere.


I can't believe it! France is supposed to be a country that recycles and doesn't waste anything if it can be saved. But using PLASTIC coverings on books, and teaching kids that it's OK to throw plastic over everything??? It's ridiculous. When I went to school, back in the Dark Ages, we rented our school books for the year, then turned them in. They were not covered at all, though you could cover them with paper if you wanted to. At the end of the year they were carefully examined, and if damaged, there was an "amende." I remember using books with the names of students several years ahead of me that were almost good as new. It's a matter of teaching respect for books, handling them with care, not propping them open with the pages face down, for example, which puts pressure on the spine, not writing in them with ink except for your name, erasing all your pencil marks, etc. so that the books are left in the best condition possible for the next generation of students.

It's imparting a way of living that treats things -- the environment -- with care. What are these plasticizing kids learning?

It also floored me that the ad had the nerve to refer to its plasticizing machine as "ecologique!" What crock! Plastic has only been in widespread use for the past 50 years, but scientists know it doesn't decompose easily. They estimate it will take 500 years for an average plastic container to begin decomposing in a landfill. Google it, and you'll see.

I am not a radical environmentalist or anything like that at all. But it's plain to see that this plastic recovering of books is a massive, large-scale waste of energy, of both the industrial and the human kind. And worse, it teaches kids exactly the wrong lesson.


About nine years ago, one of my students came to me with a fund-raising idea. It was to sell stretchy fabric book covers, like Dawn describes above. They were called Book Sox and we made a lot of money toward our plane tickets to France with the profit. Wal Mart of course now has them even cheaper. But for a few years, it worked for us.

Diane W. Young

I remember using oilcloth and brown paper from grocery bags, but after a certain point, I don't think we had to cover our books - just turn them in at end of year. My most vivid memory of textbooks was the difference between the cost and the resale value in college. I quit college out of boredom (later eventually finished) and sold my books back to the campus bookstore for a pittance. After that, when I finished a course, I kept the book(s) for years and only got rid of them when the storage space overwhelmed me. Would anyone like "A Survey of Classical Roman Literature"? I can't translate it after 50+ years away from the class. Think you made the right decision to delegate the recouvrant des livres. Responsibility starts sometime. Definitely would stock up on those stretchy covers when next in the U.S. I assume you get to keep them at the end of the year and just turn the books in. Les petits chiens sont tres mignon! Reminded me of the litter of German Shepherd puppies we had many years ago. After preparing the birthing box very carefully, the mother elected to have them under a bunk bed.
Diane Young

JacquelineBrisbane (Oz)

We covered/recovered (what's the diff?) our books with beautiful navy blue marbled paper. Actually, when I was in primary school, 4 decades ago, the only thing I remember with pleasure was covering my books! After that, it was all downhill!

Thank goodness Teresa 'covered' :), the environmental aspect here! The thought of all that plastic also gives nme the heeby-jeebies!

Now for the language: "exact same" is a tautology! (Needless repetition of the same idea). This has to be any language lover's pet hate! Non? Is it as BAD, though, as my favourite: Pin number? Aaaaargh. It even hurts to type it! In Brussels, we had a jocular way of enjoying our belgicismes: when 'enough is enough' we would say something like: 'ca ne peut pas rester continuer durer'! I'm not sure if you must be bruxellois to 'get' it. Anyway, more amunition for the French to sneer at the Belgians and their belgicismes?!?!
Kristin, you wouldn't want to visit Belgium yet! Our ways of speaking French (depending on the regions) can be so much fun! Particularly Bruxelles slang!

Maryann (Vancouver BC Canada)

Is it just me? I don't get why the books need to be covered in the first place. Aren't all schoolbooks hard cover? Or is this just a French cultural thing that I never had the pleasure (or pain) of experiencing? I don't recall ever having covered my schoolbooks when I was growing up. Mind you I grew up in 3 different Canadian provinces (Ontario, Manitoba & BC) and honestly don't recall covering any of my books. I think it is a complete waste of time though, and plastic, by the way, is not very environmentally friendly. So I suppose I got off the hook!


I always loved covering my books with recycled paper bags. That way, you have something to decorate and doodle on during class!

Helen Eatwell

I don't want to join the book covering trail (my daughter used to do her own with some old wallpaper; it was easy to handle, and she could always spot her own books quickly) but I wondered if I could answer the departed pet survey in English? It would take some time to both read and answer in French, and I see it originates from the US. Any chance of a link?


Maryann, I was thinking the same thing. I have a vague memory of having a book covered in Grade 2 or 3 (mid-1960s), but after that I never saw a book covered again until a Singaporean friend covered one in about 3 seconds when I was at university around 1980. I still have that book - he gave it to me. My books from that time are here with me, soft and hard cover, and they are in great shape. But I guess book covering teaches respect for books, manual dexterity, etc. I do like the idea, it's just that I had forgotten about it :-)

Ann Mah

Covering books in France must be an art form because at the library where I work, we have a volunteer who specializes in the task -- that's all she does during her 4-5 hour shifts, and no one else is allowed to touch the plastic sheets! Good job on delegating this year!

P.S. I tagged you on my blog... Hope you'll join in the game of "blue tag!"


My father used to take great care in covering my booked with a a brown paper sack. I loved it when he'd cover my books for me.

Christine Jackson

To Helen (above): I answered the departed pet survey in French, but it took me a long time. Click on it anyway and when you get there, you will see some links in English. Click a few more times and you will eventually find the survey in English. Bonne Chance!

Christine Jackson

To Helen (again): I just checked and if you click on the link here, there is a link to "Pet Loss Support Page" and you will see an English link to the survey at the end under "Bereavement".

JacquelineBrisbane (Oz)

I still cover some of my books now. Sometimes to 'hide' what I'm reading on the train (just for fun) or if it's extra precious to me.
My favourite covering material is the tourist maps I get when visiting an unfamiliar place; so it doubles as a souvenir.

Marianne Rankin

I hope it isn't too late to comment on this.

Yes, I lived through the make-covers-out-of-grocery-bags era, and much prefer the current stretchy cloth covers for books. Some of my son's schoolbooks were so large that even the "jumbo" size was a tight fit.

My question is, if year after year, French students cover their books, and presumably give them back at the end of the year, why isn't there a supply of already-covered books available? In the USA, in public school, books are usually used for several years (though books about the U.S. government are generally updated after each election). It would be far too expensive to have new books every fall. So why to the eleves francais have to keep covering their books?

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