Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Claire Fletcher (InfoSoup)
Josette lives in 1920s Paris with her toy rabbit, Pepette. At home, their great room’s walls were covered with paintings of the family, including Josette and her sisters as well as their dog. But there was no picture of Pepette! So the two of them set off to Montmartre where the best artists painted. Josette finds one famous painter after another to paint her toy bunny, but none of the paintings is quite right. Picasso gives the bunny too many ears and noses. Salvador Dali makes him too droopy. Chagall has Pepette flying in the clouds. Matisse painted him in the wrong colors. Finally, Josette heads home, realizing that it is up to her to create an appropriate portrait of her beloved rabbit.
Lodding’s glimpse of the wonder of Paris and the incredible artists at work all at once at Montmartre is very enticing. It will help for the adults reading the book to guide children through the artists afterwards, allowing them to understand who the artists were and how their signature styles are reflected in their portraits of Pepette. It is a lovely introduction to those painters for young children and may be ideal before a visit to a museum. Josette herself is a wonderful young character as well, showing real determination to get the right portrait of her toy and yet also showing respect to the artists and their unique vision.
The watercolor illustrations by Fletcher are a huge success. They have their own artistic quality and also capture the styles of the other artists as well. The watercolors have a vintage style that works particularly well in showing 1920s Paris, allowing the light to play across the colors of the city where Josette stands out with her red bow, polka dot dress and striped stockings.
A lovely historical picture book that invites readers to explore Paris and art. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Little Bee Books.
The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems, illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi (InfoSoup)
Diva is a little white dog who lives in a grand apartment building in Paris. She is so small that she is smaller than a foot, which makes her run whenever she hears footsteps of strangers coming. She loves to spend time in the apartment courtyard, though even there she is often startled or scared. Flea is an alleycat who spends his time moving from place to the place in Paris. He has had a lot of adventures throughout the city and has many tales to share. This unlikely pair meet when Flea unintentionally upsets Diva by hanging around her courtyard. Diva teaches Flea about things like going inside for breakfast while Flea teachers Diva about exploring out in the public streets and learning to meet people rather than running away.
Willems was living in Paris when he discovered this story right at his own apartment building, a little dog who was friends with a stray cat. He has taken that initial inspiration and created two outstanding characters in Diva and Flea. The combination of being pampered and frightened is quite clever and a much more creative choice than being pampered and spoiled rotten. Flea too is not stereotypical. He has a very metropolitan flair rather than being uncouth and rude. Their friendship develops right on the page, each of them learning from the other and seeing one another in a new way with each encounter.
The art by DiTerlizzi is gorgeous. He captures the compact vigor of Diva and her panic attacks. Then there is the rangy motion of Flea, where you can almost see him move on the page with his shifting muscles under his fur. Paris too is captured along with them as they look at the Eiffel Tower. I was grinning ear-to-ear to see Willems himself pop onto the page as the person that Diva first attempts not to run away from. Clever indeed.
Another winner from Willems, this book offers his fans a new chapter book with some grand new characters. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo
Translated from French, this graphic novel delicately but powerfully explains the impact of the Nazis on a child. Told by a grandmother to her granddaughter, this is the story of Dounia, a young Jewish girl whose life changes when the Nazis come to Paris. First she has to wear a yellow star, then she stops attending school, and finally her parents are taken away and she is sheltered by neighbors. She has to call the neighbor woman “mother” even though she doesn’t want to. The two flee Paris and head to the countryside where Dounia is able to live comfortably with enough food, but worries all the time about whether she will ever see her parents again. This is a book about families but also about those people thrown together by horrors who become family to one another to survive.
Dauvallier first offers a glimpse of what Dounia’s life was like just before the Nazis arrived. Quickly though, the book changes and becomes about persecution and the speed of the changes that Jews in France and other countries had to endure. Isolation from society was one of the first steps taken, the loss of friends and mentors, then the fear of being taken away or shot entered. But so did bravery and sacrifice and heroism. It is there that this book stays, keeping the horrors at bay just enough for the light to shine in.
The art work is powerful but also child friendly. The characters have large round heads that show emotions clearly. There are wonderful plays of light and dark throughout the book that also speak to the power of the Nazis and the vital power of fighting back in big ways and small.
A powerful graphic novel, this book personalizes the Holocaust and offers the story of one girl who survived with love and heroism. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Sophie was found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck, scooped out of the water by a fellow passenger, Charles, who became her guardian. He was a single man and a scholar, and unlikely to be a suitable parent, but the two of them got along perfectly well. The Welfare Agency did pursue the two of them and it finally got so bad that the two fled to Paris before Sophie could be sent to an orphanage. Sophie knew that her mother was still alive although everyone else thought she was dead. And her guardian always taught her to never ignore a possible. So they searched Paris for her mother, following the clue she found in the cello case. There she met Matteo, a boy who appeared in her skylight and led her to a world of the rooftops. Together they search the roofs of Paris for the sound of her mother’s cello. But how long can Sophie search before she is caught by the authorities?
Rundell writes so beautifully, it is impossible not to stop and linger over her phrases. She uses unusual metaphors like “…he held her in his large hands – at arm’s length, as he would a leaky flowerpot…” She also paints gorgeous images of her characters, “Think of nighttime with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal chords.” And she also vividly shows how characters think, “Mothers are a thing you need, like air, she thought, and water. Even paper mothers were better than nothing – even imaginary ones. Mothers were a place to put down your heart. They were a resting stop to recover your breath.” I could go on and on with quotes, since her entire novel is filled with moments like this.
Sophie and Charles are great characters, entirely unique and quirky. At first they are living in a normal society where they don’t fit at all and the tension between them and normalcy is finely conveyed. It is when she reaches the rooftops of Paris though that the book becomes pure quicksilver magic. Impossible to put down, one wishes that they too could climb to the rooftops of Paris in the confident hands of Matteo, who is also a vivid and amazing character.
Profoundly original and filled with shining prose, this novel is a wondrous read. Appropriate for ages 11-13. Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster.
Just One Day by Gayle Forman
Allyson has always been the good girl, following her mother’s expectations of her completely. That’s why she’s on a whirlwind tour of Europe. Allyson is the girl who follows the rules, rarely goes out in the evenings with the others, and fades into the background next to her flashier best friend. So when Allyson suggests that they go see an underground performance of Shakespeare and cut out of the tour, it’s very out of character. When she discovers one of the actors, Willem, on their train the next day to London, the two of them just click. Quickly, she and Willem decide to head to Paris together for just one day before they both have to return home. As they travel together, the spark they had on the train becomes something even stronger. So when Willem is gone the next morning, Allyson struggles to figure out what happened even as she returns home and starts college. But the memory of Willem won’t leave her, coloring everything she experiences.
Forman is the author of If I Stay and Where She Went. Here she explores the world of a sheltered teen girl who decides to take a huge risk and break free of her confines if only for just one day. Forman captures the fatigue of travel where one day blurs into the others and the way that tours can dull the wonder of even the most amazing places. She then shows the difference between that way of travel and the travel of discovery and serendipity where your entire being is caught up in experiencing things. Forman writes of Paris and then also the Netherlands with a true affection, creating moments that are splendid and transformational.
Forman’s writing is assured and skilled. Upon opening the novel, the reader knows that the book will be solid. They will be delighted to also find that her writing is romantic and beautiful, truly recreating the experience of falling in love as a teen. She has also created a very compelling teen heroine in Allyson, who struggles mightily with the expectations set upon her. One roots for her to find her way free and also to find her way back to what she lost.
This exceptional teen novel is a whirlwind romantic trip to Europe that will have you wrapped up in its arms much faster than just one day. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from copy received from Dutton.
Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Amy Bates
Minette was most likely the luckiest cat in the world, since she was owned by Julia Child. Adopted by Julia Child and her husband during their time in Paris, she was just as discerning about her food as her owner was. She spurned canned food, eating only fresh mice and bird. Julia would bring home marvelous fish heads just for Minette and also give her leftovers from her cooking. Still, Minette preferred her own hunted food. Julia began to cook more and more, taking classes as Le Cordon Bleu. Minette honed her own hunting skills at the same time, practicing on her toys. It would take something very special to lure Minette away from the mice. But then again, her owner was Julia Child who was certainly up to that challenge.
Taking on a famous cook and personality through her finicky cat is a wonderful approach. We get to see a younger Julia Child, figuring out how to cook French food in her own small kitchen. We are there to see her arrive in Paris, find her footing in the culture, and then through her learning process until her cooking inspires even her cat to turn away from mice. It’s a genuine way to approach the subject that has a real child-appeal.
Bates’ illustrations are done in pencil and watercolor. There is a seriousness and also a playfulness in her illustrations that remind me of Julia herself. The lanky woman is shown at her full height throughout the book as she is celebrated in both image and text. Minette appears early in the book, long before Julia adopts her. It’s a nice touch for sharp-eyed children.
A warm and energetic glimpse of Julia Child that celebrates her on the year of her 100th birthday. Simply delicious! Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Anna is not happy that she’s been sent to boarding school in Paris just because her bestselling author father decided it. She doesn’t speak any French at all, is missing out on her senior year in Atlanta, and just connected with a cute boy who works with her. Anna quickly meets a group of kids at the school who have been attending it for years. Most of them are American seniors, but one boy is part French, part English, part American and entirely perfect. Unfortunately, he is in a serious long-term relationship and Anna does have that boy back in Atlanta. So Anna and Etienne become good friends, watch movies together, and struggle to make sure that their relationship stays just friendly. Filled with lots of romance and plenty of romantic tension, this book is hot, never heavy, and pure bliss.
Perkins has captured the streets of Paris, creating the vibe and feel of a European city seen through the eyes of an American teen. Readers will enjoy discovering the city with Anna and will love living vicariously through her adventures. Perkins has also created teens who talk like teenagers, tease like bright teens, get drunk, get angry, lose control, but don’t destroy their lives. She has written authentic teens who react to real life as real people. Add to this mix of breathtaking setting and authentic voice, a beautiful love story and you have a winning read. Perkins has managed to avoid the cliché of the love triangle, instead focusing on two people who are drawn to one another but aren’t available.
Anna is a protagonist who grows throughout the book in many ways. She becomes more confident as she leaves her dorm room and walks the streets of Paris. She also becomes a lot more honest with herself, about the boy back in the states, her best friend in Atlanta, and her true feelings for Etienne. She is a wonderfully drawn protagonist who is filled with emotions but also plenty of self control. It makes for a dynamic and fascinating character. Etienne is equally well drawn with his great hair and handsomeness. He is not perfect though, he tends to be overly cautious, is desperately scared of heights, and is a tad short.
Highly recommended, this romance is much more than fluff but has plenty of heady romantic moments too. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin.