First, many French people didn’t read Le Petit Prince — or other classics by the way — even if they praise it and would fight tooth and nail for it!
Most of the time, they just studied some extracts at school. Only two categories of people would read the entire books:
the motivated ones
those interested by literary studies.
Second, you have to know that even natives may have difficulties to understand Le Petit Prince because it is complex since it is about imagination and poetry!
Thus it is absolutely normal if you face the same difficulties. One has to be really advanced in the language to understand the implicit, etc.
Also, thinking about it, french literature is not set in stone: there are so much treasures to discover and promote…
For example, did you know that Simone de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine’ sister, was also a writer? She was older than him and when he started to be famous, he didn’t want another writer in the family (!). Despite that, she was a dedicated sister since she protected her brother’s work until the end of her life in 1978.
Their descendants, reporting they didn’t know why she didn’t do it herself, published her uncompleted but interesting childhood memories book, Cinq enfants dans un parc, to commemorate the centenary of the birth of her brother in 2000.
I really want to pay tribute here to unknown or lesser-known authors like Simone de Saint-Exupéry who was not just “Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s sister”, but a person, a woman and a writer in her own right.
People like her make me reflect a lot on what is — or not — considered as major books and authors “you have to know”…
Anyway, there are so much great books to read out there so make your own way!
This being said, you will find below some reading advice if it can help:
1) Read books in french that you have already read in your language
Since you know the story, it will help you (and you can find bilingual versions if you want to start slowly).
2) Read french versions of “must-read” books from all over the world
➨ Classics published in bilingual versions: check out this page
➨ Short texts:for exemple an engaged essay, Indignez-vous ! by Stéphane Hessel (30 pages), an outstanding french diplomat, resistant, writer and activist who addressed a beautiful message to the french people in 2010 (3 years before his death) about what they fought for in the past and shouldn’t forget. You also have La préférence nationale and other short stories, first book by Fatou Diome who shared her experience of immigration in France with a unique and brilliant style.