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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Meeting Cezanne, written by Michael Morpurgp amd illustrated by Francois Place. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $18.00 ages 7 and up

"That morning, I didn't go for my walk in the hills. Instead I made my way down through the village toward the chateau. I'd often wondered what it was like behind those closed gates. Now I was going to find out. I waited till there was no one about, no cars coming. I climbed the gates easily enough, then ran down through the trees."

I first read the story of Yannick and his summer in Provence in a wonderful book of short stories by the incomparable Michael Morpurgo called Singing for Mrs. Pettigrew (Candlewick, 2006). The first sentence stirred up the memory of that story read so long ago...for me, a true testament to his powerful writing and storytelling abilities.

When his mother must go to hospital (he doesn't remember why), Yannick is sent to spend time with family who run a village inn in southern France. He cannot believe his great good luck. He has rarely been away from home, his mother has shown him the work of Cezanne whose art reflects his love for Provence, and he is keen to have an adventure.

Yannick is ten. His cousin Amandine is fourteen. He is immediately besotted. She is beautiful, and haughty. He can't help being in love with her, and doing his very best to have her notice him. He works hard as a helper in her family's inn and has reason to enjoy it:

"She put me to work at once in the restaurant: setting tables, clearing tables, cutting bread, filling up breadbaskets, filling carafes of water, making sure there was enough wood on the fire in the evenings, and washing up, of course. After just one day I was exhausted. Amandine told me I had to learn to work harder and faster, but she did kiss me good night before I went upstairs, which was why I did not wash my face for days afterward."

When a famous and frequent guest and his friends visit the inn, Yannick is unimpressed:

"Whoever he was, he looked ordinary enough to me, just an old man with not much hair."

In cleaning up the table once those guests have gone, Yannick makes a huge blunder. The paper tablecloth is tossed in the fire, as is his routine. Amandine is furious for 'the most famous painter in the world' always leaves a drawing when he is pleased with his meal. Yannick has just unknowingly destroyed it.

In an attempt to regain favor, he seeks out the artist and makes a surprising discovery!

I love this story, written with Michael Morpurgo's simplicity and polish. I think that middle graders would love to hear it together in class. The pencil and watercolor illustrations bring to life the French countryside where Yannick finds peace and joy, as he walks there often after he has finished his work. They are very reminiscent of Cezanne's brilliant art and of his love for the French countryside.

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