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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Minette's Feast, written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Amy Bates. Abrams, Canadian Manda Group. 2012. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"Julia and Paul were charmed by Minette's delicate whiskers, her superior nose, and her quick little paws. Here was a cat who thoroughly enjoyed life's many pleasures - long naps, soft laps, and , of course, lunch. But for Minette, no ordinary meal would do."

One day to go before those whose lives Julia Child made better celebrate her once more, on what would have been her 100th birthday! It provides a great chance for me to share this new book from Abrams about one small part of her life...her love of cats.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed it when I read it for the first time, and I have read it numerous times since then. It is a charming look at the life that the Childs lived while in Paris. Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child knew how she truly lucky she was that Paul and Julia had allowed her to adopt them:

"And day and night she could smell the delicious smells of mayonnaise, hollandaise, cassoulets, cheese soufflees, and duck pates walking from the pots and pans of her owner, Julia Child."

Indeed she was blessed; but so, too, were the Childs. When they arrived in Paris they had explored its streets, shops and cafes. They had an apartment that seemed empty without a cat. They immediately fell in love with Minette who had been 'stalking' them for days (if we are to believe the glorious illustrations that follow them from place to place).

What a lovely collaboration of text and art this is! I pore over the pictures again and again, enjoying the Paris streets, Julia's cooking lessons and her kitchen, with Minette at her feet and keeping a concentrated watch on the mousehole. Minette much preferred her own fresh catches to the foods that Julia was so meticulously cooking. I particularly love the full page spread that shows Julia in four positions, moving about the kitchen from cookbook to bowl, from pan to stove...busy, busy, busy!
Oh, and then I should tell you about....well, Minette on Julia's shoulder as she prepares a feast for Paul and friends. Then, there's the series of feline antics across two pages that show how she truly felt when she discovered the culinary joy of Julia's cooking. Want me to go on?

Together Susanna Reich and Amy Bates have created a perfect picture book biography that will enchant and delight all readers.

An Afterword is included about Julia's life, followed by notes and sources, a glossary to help with French pronunciation, and finally an author's note about her endless fascination with the woman she watched on television as a child.

In a recent interview Susanna Reich discussed Julia and the reasons for honoring her with this fine book:

"Julia was serious about cooking and held herself to the highest standards. Her devotion to her art—the art of French cooking—was inspiring. She also took great pleasure in sharing her enthusiasm and had a wonderful sense of humor. I admired her confidence, her knowledge, her spontaneity, and her commitment to teaching. When she demonstrated a dish, she made you believe that you could cook it, too.
But the key thing about Julia goes beyond cooking. She knew that putting people at ease and fostering convivial conversation around the table was more important that the success of any particular dish. In her memoir she wrote, "Remember, 'No one's more important than people'! In other words, friendship is the most important thing—not career or housework, or one's fatigue—and it needs to be tended and nurtured.
By focusing my picture book on Julia's years in Paris and her relationship with Minette, I was able to share with kids the things I admire most about Julia—her warmth, her humor, her work ethic, and the joy she found in cooking."

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