@citizen: That’s a great question… The only book that I have been able to find that matches your description, is a book called “Easy French Reader,” by R. de Roussy de Sales (ISBN 978-0-07-142848-4). The book starts off with “easy” stories, and the level of difficulty progresses with each chapter. There is a small glossary, and on average about three of the more difficult words appear on the right margin of the page. The book starts off with fictional stories, moves on to stories about the history of France, and ends with excerpts from stories written by French authors.
I’ve found this book to be extremely helpful, but I’ve had difficulty finding more that are like it. If you can find any more books like this one, post the info–I would greatly appreciate it. Whether this book is what you’re looking for or not, I wish you the best of luck, and happy reading!
As far as the books go, my all time favourite is “The Little Prince” :
Read it in 4 different languages that I had to learn throughout the past 10 years.
There’s no vocab on the side, but the text is as simple as it gets.
Worman, J. H.: First French Book after the Natural Method. Woman’s Language Series. 1883. (Scanned by Google Books.)
It is not clear to what extent this “natural method” is related to the direct method (sometimes natural method) that Maximilian Berlitz introduced in the late 19th century.
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