There's a genre of fiction that you might call nostalgia lit--books that describe a forgotten world in a way that assures us that it probably was once there, and perhaps distracts our attention from the fact that it probably isn't any longer. Thomas Hardy would be the somber adult example, although most of the entries on the list involve children or young people. They may have a kind of innocence, but they aren't necessarily treacly: Lark Rise to Candleford, by Flora Thompson, would be a British example; the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder perhaps qualify as an American analog.
All this is by way of introducing my apprecition for an admirable French candidate for the category: Marcel Pagnol and for the moment in particular La Gloire de mon père, the first volume of what Pagnol offers as "autobiography" of his childhood in the South of France. The best thing I can think of to say about La Gloire is that it paints an utterly convincing picture of how much fun it can be to be a child.
While the device may trascend national boundries, there is something very French about La Gloire. The thing is, I've often thought that the French are at their best in dealing with their children: the English bully English children and the Italians are bullied by theirs. But the French seem to be able to strike just the right note sympathy and detachment. And that is what comes through so strongly in Pagnol's account: the sense of just how much fun it could be to be a kid, secure in a loving family and a coherent world, a century ago (a followup is called Le château de ma mère, but I haven't read it).
I read La Gloire in French, and it has one signal characteristic that makes it suitable for this purpose. And that is: I can actually read it. My French is pretty rudimentary and Pagnol has the happy dual aspect of providing (a) that I (with the aid of my Bantam New College Dictionary) can actually dope it out; and (b) that I am willing to stick with it. It's the challenge for any language teacher, I suppose. Call it the "Xenophon problem:" trying to find stuff that adult beginners can handle, but will not bore them stiff.* For this purpose, Pagnol is perfect. The story is straightforward and gently comic; the style is easy and direct.
I couldn't pretend that Pagnol is any big secret; several of his books appear to be in print in English; many will recognize La Gloire from the movie, which gets an IMDb 6.7. From the end papers of my Edition de Fallois, I infer that he is even more popular in France. Hard earned and well deserved, I say. I'm sorry to be finishing this one, and I'll have to move on to more.
*Actually, I don't find Xenophon all that boring. But he can seem it when you are plodding along with grammar in one hand.
Afterthought: I suppose all that deluge of rural-life dramas at PBS could be thought to qualify. But I suspect that a good many of the viewers dodn't realize that it does not exist.