Au Nain Bleu (Blue Dwarf) is a little wonderland. Spread over two storefronts, across the road from l’Église de la Madeleine in the 8th Arrondissement, it’s decorated like a circus tent and has the air of an Aladdin’s cave. I’m greeted upon entrance by pedal cars and even an airplane, complete with Biggles goggles. WANT. And this is me at 26.
Here they specialize in old-fashioned handcrafted toys as well as more modern items. Russian dolls, toy soldiers and all kinds of wooden puzzles and blocks—they’re all here. Craft kits also abound. There’s everything from bracelet making to nuclear fusion kits (more or less).
Little kitchen reproductions (which include a sketched grocery list) come in a variety of styles and are beautifully carved in wood, not molded in garish plastic. Little baskets of utensils are also available.
There’s a wide range of costumes, too—perfect additions to any self-respecting dress-up box. Quite a way’s from the ubiquitous fairy and princess dresses is the boys’ department. There are the obvious pirate outfits and military uniforms, but my personal favorites are the Zorro and the Musketeers costumes. Excuse me, where can I find a size 38?
If dolls are more what you’re after, Au Nain Bleu stocks some baby dolls and their accessories as well as heirloom china dolls. Superb marionettes hang overhead along with many other types of puppets, and they even have full-size Punch and Judy–style red-and-white-striped puppet theatres for your own productions. These are toys meant to last more than one child, no matter how hard they’re loved.
The helpful staff also speak perfect English and are accustomed to international orders, though do check their shipping times if you’re planning for this year’s holidays.
L’Arche de Noé (Noah’s Ark), on the Île St.-Louis, is a lovely little nook with a slightly younger feel. It also stocks dress-up clothes for very small boys and girls, along with baby puppets and soft toys. Beautiful wooden alphabet blocks are on offer, as are books, crafts and board games for slightly older children.
L’Arche de Noé
70, rue St.-Louis-en-l’Île, in the 4th. 01 46 34 61 60.