Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nonfiction Picture Book - Minette's Feast by Susanna Reich

So normally this would be Wayback Wednesday, but since today is Julia Child's 100th birthday, this seemed like a more appropriate post.

An especially fantastic trend in picture books of late are the fictionalized biographies of real-life individuals. Technically, since the stories are usually told from an alternate perspective and some details are invented, they aren't strictly nonfiction. And yet, because they have a basis in reality, these accounts can make an excellent bridge for young children from the fiction section to the nonfiction section, or vice versa. Kids who only want "true stories" could be induced by a whiff of whimsy to try something else, or those whose fare leans toward the imaginary might be convinced that real life can be just as engaging.

One of my favorite recent examples of this trend is Robbin Gourley's Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You A Pie. In a similar vein comes Susanna Reich's Minette's Feast, a peek into the life of Julia Child via her cat, Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child. Told through the perspective of this very blessed feline, Julia Child's early life in Paris and the beginnings of her culinary career are lovingly rendered and beautifully illustrated. Minette does in fact lead a charmed life, and she knows it - she came into the household thanks to Julia's belief that "(a) house without a cat is like life without sunshine!". Minette is famously finicky, and though she won't eat food out of a can, she's not entirely convinced by her mistress's delicious dishes either. Much better is a fresh bird, or maybe a mouse she's caught herself - now that's delightful. Still, Minette is Julia's constant companion as she undertakes the process of improving her cooking, first through self-study and then by enrolling at Le Cordon Bleu. (Minette polishes her own hunting skills in a similar fashion.)

This is a simply charming book, one that presents the story of Julia Child in a format that appeals to young chefs and cat lovers alike. The illustrations by Amy Bates are beyond fantastic, the kind of homey warmth you just want to linger over. For one thing, she captures the capriciousness of Minette perfectly - one minute resting quietly, then suddenly pounce! But Bates goes far beyond Minette's own actions to bring Julia's story to life as well. Her depictions of a younger Julia stirring, tasting, whisking, chopping fairly burst from the page, as the famous woman's boundless energy come through on every spread. A picture of a dinner party at the Child home is particularly spot-on: the all-but-salivating guests, including Child's husband Paul; the beaming Julia, bearing a fragrant turkey still steaming from the oven; and the ever-proud Minette, taking her place in the hostess's spot (it's only the way things should be, after all). Delectable!

Whether you're a fan of food or felines, Minette's Feast is a sure-fire hit. I'll be rooting for this one come award season - it's a gem that truly stands out on every bookshelf!

Minette's Feast by Susanna Reich, published by Abrams
Ages 7-12
Source: Library
Sample: "Sometimes the 'nice old fish lady' at the marketplace gave Julia luscious fish heads for Minette. Julia would cook them up in a pot. Perhaps she'd add a dollop of scrumptious 'chicken liver custard.' / Minette might even take a nibble. / But it seemed that mouse and bird were really much preferred."
Highly recommended

Bonus: an outstanding interview with illustrator Amy Bates from the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

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