March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Two Picture Books Celebrate the Life of Julia Child in Time for Her 100th Birthday

Julia Child, the noted chef, author, and TV personality, would have turned 100 on August 15—and two picture books are now on sale in time for the big day.

Susanna Reich’s Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat (Abrams, 2012) and author/illustrator Jessie Hartland’s Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2012), each offer a different take on the iconic American chef, who had a passion for food, cooking—and eating.

Minette’s Feast, which received a starred review from School Library Journal, introduces young readers to Child through her spirited cat, Minette, whom she adopted while living in Paris.

A former florist, Reich met Child when she designed the centerpieces for the chef’s 80th birthday—and the memory of that encounter inspired the book. “I wanted to introduce kids to Julia Child because she was a cultural icon who was hardworking and dedicated,” Reich says. She had so much fun in the kitchen, doing something she was passionate about.”

Reich says she purposely used Minette to capture the interest of kids. “I loved the way she took care of her cat and hope kids will appreciate that,” says Reich, adding that she also wanted to give readers a taste of French culture and language, as well as include culinary terms in a playful manner.

One page reads, “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!”

Jessie Hartland cooking.
Photo: Isabelle Dervaux

To help teachers and librarians share the book with students, the website Six Trait Gurus details how it can be used in an educational setting.

Jessie Hartland’s Bon Appetit! is a comprehensive collection of images and facts, spanning from Child’s childhood in California and her years abroad (where readers learn to say “I am Hungry” in many languages) to her rise to television stardom. Great detail is also given to the collaborative process of creating Child’s classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, with co-authors Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.

Hartland grew-up watching Child on public television and was fascinated by her love of food, which was a stark contrast to her own mother’s lack of interest in cooking. As part of Hartland’s research, she conducted a Julia Child pilgrimage, visiting towns and sites connected with the famous chef, which also helped inspire her illustrations. Through her research, Hartland was surprised to learn that the young Child was mischievous—and that she was later considered a “party girl.” Hartland also discovered that as a child growing up in Washington, DC’s Georgetown, she lived a few streets away from Child.

Primarily considered an illustrator, Hartland uses several multi-panel illustrations to tell her story.  Her favorite is of the young Child visiting Marseille, France, in search of the perfect bouillabaisse recipe, that coincidentally, is Hartland’s favorite Child recipe. She also uses a series of drawings to show the complexity involved in preparing galantine, a deboned stuffed meat (usually poultry or fish) that’s coated in aspic and stuffed with chopped cow udder. The book also offers a child-friendly recipe for kids to try.

“The crepe recipe is my own,” Hartland says. “I started making crepes as a child as I did not like the from-a-mix pancakes my mother made. The summer before going off to art school, I worked at the Magic Pan, a creperie chain, and that’s where I learned the batter smoothing-out trick with the strainer.”

Both Reich and Hartland plan to celebrate Child’s birthdays in different ways.

Hartland will autograph her book from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, where Julia Child’s Kitchen is on display

Meanwhile, Reich plans to cook dinner for her husband using her favorite Child recipe, Coq au Vin. They will eat dinner on the deck, toast Julia, and watch the sunset, just like the famous chef and her husband, Paul, did. Their cat, Chloe, will be with them.

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.