Lynn: Every time I embark on a new recipe, make salad dressing or cut basil from the plant on my patio I think about the debt we American cooks owe to Julia Child. Of course we owe her for moving American cooking from casseroles using canned mushroom soup into cooking sophisticated recipes that highlight flavor. But we owe her most of all for gifting us with her contagious appreciation of food and her joy in cooking and eating well. I was a devoted watcher of Julia’s TV Show, The French Chef, as a young wife and, thanks to my husband’s job and our love of travel, have developed a kindred love of French food. I’ll never be the cook Julia was – or that my son and daughter-in-law are – but I do have Julia’s enthusiastic celebration of food and flavor. So – excitement has reigned at our house with the arrival of not one but two terrific picture books about my heroine. August 15th is the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birthday and what better way to celebrate it than introducing this ebullient woman to a new generation!
The first is Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat (Abrams 2012) by Susanna Reich. Julia Child was a cat lover and Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child was the first lucky cat to share Julia and Paul’s lives, after they moved to Paris. Reich has chosen to use the very real Minette as an entry point for children into Julia’s discovery of French food and tells the story of Julia’s exuberant first plunge into cooking. As Julia experiments, Minette benefits from leftover nibbles, playing with a Brussels sprout on a string, heavenly smells and the occasional lovely bone – even though her preference is always mouse – fresh of course. All of the dialog comes from Julia and Paul’s letters and books and Reich seasons her charming text with French and culinary vocabulary and plenty of humor. Amy Bate’s enchanting watercolor illustrations use a warm palette of yellows, blues and greens, giving the book a feel of French style. Reich and Bates have been meticulous in getting the details right, even spending an enormous amount of time tracing the exact layout of the Child’s Paris apartment. This book is a visual treat and young readers will love finding Minette on each page. Both text and pictures do a lovely job of portraying Julia’s spirit and style AND that of a cat – a Parisian one at that. An Afterword provides the facts of Child’s life and Notes, Sources and a Glossary follow with additional information. I especially loved the photograph of Julia with the real Minette. Well, I’ll hand this off to Cindy. It’s time for me to whip up an omelet!
Cindy: Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child (Random House/Schwartz & Wade) by Jessie Hartland offers another way to learn about this woman. I was a bit skeptical that kids would care about Julia Child, but there are probably enough mothers who saw the Julie and Julia movie or grandmothers like Lynn who grew up watching Julia on television that there will be an interest. And, there’s enough children, like mine, who have grown up watching the Food Network and who are foodies in the making. As Julia is quoted as saying at the beginning of this book, “People who love to eat are always the best people.”
The opening page highlights some of Julia’s achievements, including the teaser that she joined a spy mission during WWII–who wouldn’t want to know more? Lots of delightful small gouache paintings fill, nay, cram the pages with hand lettered text. These scenes flow like a graphic novel and are filled with funny facts and the major events of Julia’s life and career. Julia’s mother only knew how to cook three dishes, one of them was Welsh Rabbit. Worried young readers are informed that it was a mix of beer, cheese and mustard served over toast…and “nothing to do with bunnies. Whew!”
Julia was a prankster as a child and her sense of humor showed up often on her television cooking show. Kids are always happy to read about famous people who weren’t perfect, so facts like Julia’s bad grades in high school French and her flunking of a typing test for Newsweek magazine will be as welcome as the non-traditional path that Julia took on her way to stardom. Interesting facts, French and culinary vocabulary, and charming illustrations peppered with cooking tips and even a recipe with detailed instructions for making crepes make this biography completely unique. This book is the literary equivalent of a hearty cassoulet…lots of yummy ingredients combining into a very satisfying whole. The right kids will eat it up. This is Julia Child…Bon Appetit!
Common Core Connection:
W.3.4. With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose.
W.3.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
Bon Appetit! would provide a great example for students to write their own illustrated autobiography, or biographies of a classmates after interviewing them. The teacher could read the book aloud, showing the illustrations with a document camera, and then have the students write a chronological illustrated biography using descriptive details of small events. Perhaps they could supplement the biography with a final page that mirrors the opening one in this book, showing the highlights of Julia’s life…in this case imagining what they end up doing and achieving.