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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bon Appetit, written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2012. $19.99 all ages

"Julia and Paul marry in 1946. (Julia is 34. Paul is 44.) In the evenings she tries to cook. Julia works as a file clerk. Paul works for a branch of the State Department, a federal agency. He plans and mounts exhibitions that aim to show the world what American art and culture look like."

When Bret and I were shopping at Costco yesterday, we made our usual stop at the books section and I found a copy of Dearie (Bob Spitz, Knopf, 2012); then, we stopped at McNally Robinson and I snagged a copy of As Always (Reardon, Thomas Allen reprint, 2011). In coming weeks, I will learn more about the woman whose 100th birthday was celebrated without her this past week, and whose 'artful' cooking lessons were fashioned to inform our practice and entertain at the same time. 

Earlier I told you about a picture book biography that focused on the Paris years of Julia's story. In this new book by Jessie Hartland, we are given a more comprehensive look at Julia's life, from her birth in Pasadena in 1912 to her death in 2004. It sparkles with Julia's on-air presence, her exuberance for living; and I'm sure it would have found a fan in Julia herself:

"She bubbled over with effervescence, spoke as if she had marbles in her mouth, and gleefully hammed it up in front of the camera...How did a gangly girl from Pasadena do it?"

And so, the story begins. Julia was the oldest of three siblings, afraid of little and always on the go. She grew tall with large feet; a plus if you wanted to play basketball, not so much if you wanted to dance with a high school boy. Every single page is filled with scenes from Julia's life. The pages are awash with cartoon-like images, using a muted palette of greens, golds, grays and blue. The hand-lettered text makes the telling personal and filled with charm.

There are brilliant bits of information that will grab attention and offer insights into the woman who was Julia Child. Each vignette adds to the appeal. From adventurous child to a job with the OSS during WWII, from marriage to fellow foodie Paul Child to Paris and lessons at the Cordon Bleu, and finally, from learning to cook to sharing what she learned and loved with so many through her cookbooks and her very popular television show; it's all here for young readers to ponder and enjoy.

The endpapers front and back are jammed with images from Julia's life: the front ones have English captions while the back provide French translation for each. When needed, she uses the bottom of the pages of text to show her readers the many moves from place to place made during her lifetime. An albeit brief epilogue, a useful bibliography, web links and a recipe for the author's own crepes end the book, bringing readers another lively and inspiring picture book biography of an iconic American woman. Brava!

This is wonderful storytelling that is sure to appeal to readers of all ages who are intrigued by this
amazing woman who had this to say about herself:

"I don't think about whether people will remember me or not. I've been an okay person. I've learned a lot. I've taught people a thing or two. That's what's important. Sooner or later the public will forget you, the memory of you will fade. What's important are the individuals you've influenced along the way."

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