Minette's Feast, written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Amy June Bates
Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Amy June Bates is scrumptious! Susanna Reich clearly knows and loves her subject matter (both Julia Child and cats) and her author's note reveals a wonderful personal connection while the afterword, notes, glossary and pronunciation guide offer substance for readers who want to know more about this story. Her writing about Julia Child and her evolution as a chef (although, as the afterword tells us, Child never referred to herself as a chef because she never cooked professionally in a restaurant) is poetic and mouthwatering and is generously peppered with Child's own words, as the notes reveal. Reich frames Child's story with that of Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child, the Child's real cat (Reich includes a photo of Julia and Minette from 1950, taken by Paul Child) and her own culinary pursuits, specifically "crunch of a fresh-caught mouse, devoured on the living room rug!"
The magnificent Amy June Bates evokes the time and the place perfectly with her palette of earthy colors like ochre, cornflower blue and dark sea green that pop when she adds a burst of red here and there. She captures the architecture and culture of Paris in the 1950s and one of my favorite illustrations from the book is a cut-away dollhouse view of the Child's apartment with them doing something in every room, including Julia in her kitchen. For those of you who wonder if young listeners who do not give a hoot about gastronomy, Julia Child or Paris, Bates introduces the story with the character of an inquisitive little girl as well as an ever-present cat. By page twelve of Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, the Childs have adopted a cat and the regal Minette takes over as the star of the show and the book becomes the story of a cat owner trying to fix the perfect dish for her picky pet.
As Julia learns to cook and Minette continues to turn up her nose at the treats set in front of her. Despite the "delicious smells of mayonnaise, hollandaise, cassoulets, cheese soufflés, and duck pâtés" Minnette takes only a nibble, then return to her pursuit of birds and mice. The months go by and Julia becomes quite the gourmet cook. In one herculean rush, Reich melodically describes Child's efforts as she "baked and blanched, blended and boiled, drained and dried, dusted and fried. She floured and flipped, pitted and plucked, rinsed and roasted, sizzled and skimmed. And when she wasn't trimming, toasting, or topping, she was washing, whipping, and whisking! At Julia's feet, Minette purred with contentment. The smells were heavenly, the tastes delightful. Still, there was mouse."
When Julia tries a new recipe, one that takes days to prepare, she not only pleases the friends and family that warm their drafty apartment, but she also finds the one thing that Minnette will take her nose away from the mouse hole for and Bates's illustrations of Minette's exuberant, joyful devouring of her feast is delectable indeed. Bates is as detailed with her illustrations as Reich is with her story and notes. The illustrations of Julia in her kitchen are fantastic, with her tools, utensils and cookware lining the walls and, as Reich quotes Child's own words in the book, "enough knives to fill a pirate ship." I especially like the inclusion of Minette playing with "a Brussels sprout tied to a string." Bates's illustrations of the cat and the "toy" (and Julia showing off her newly acquired ability to stir two pots at once) and the knowledge that event is taken from a passage in Child's book My Life in France make it all the more delightful. While Reich provides fascinating information about her writing process in the back of Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, you can learn about Bates's process in an interview she gave at the blog Books Together and at BookPage, where she illustrated her own interview!
I sometimes find myself wondering about the value of the nonfiction, biographical picture book - sometimes the enormity of lives of the figures or the moments in history presented seem more than a young reader can or would want to grasp. Yet, when I do read a fabulous, marvelously illustrated nonfiction picture book like Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, or The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffith or Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss, I begin to see the value in exposing readers to these amazing people and their accomplishments through the medium of the picture book. These little bites of life are just enough to plant the seeds of imagination and inspiration and encourage readers to want to learn more.