Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Cat With Good Taste

Shelves in my dining room are home to more than seventy-five cookbooks and as many magazines.  A single drawer is filled with carefully labeled envelopes stuffed with clipped recipes.  I read cookbooks like some people read fiction. 

Surprisingly enough the students at the elementary and middle school (in my new district) were thrilled when I began purchasing those geared for them to circulate.  The demand was high.  For someone, like myself, who loves to cook for others, I was more than pleased to see my selections enjoyed over the years.

Growing up I can remember hearing the cooking show, The French Chef, on television and even peeking in from time to time to watch.  This week will mark the 100th anniversary of Julia Child's birth on August 15, 1912.  Author Susanna Reich has written Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat (Abrams Books for Young Readers) with illustrations by Amy Bates, not only to inform but as a tribute to a woman who made cooking joyful for many.

Minette Mimosa
McWilliams Child was a very
lucky cat, perhaps the luckiest
cat in all of Paris.

Within the first pages it begins with Minette in the home of Julia and Paul Child.  But the narrator takes readers back to when the Childs first arrived in Paris; speaking of their affection for one another, their love of exploring the sights, sounds and... the foods of France. They filled their dark, often chilly, apartment with the coziness of family and friends.  Having no children they were fortunate enough to have a cat choose them; filling their lives with the missing ingredient.

Minette's meal of choice was mouse or bird but even in the beginning Julia would serve her little tidbits of leftovers.  Having set her sights on improving her cooking skills, Julie began asking the vendors at the market for advice and eventually signed up for classes at Le Cordon, the creme de la creme of cooking schools.  When Julia perfects a new recipe, the guests's delight is no equal compared to the total glee of the cat when finally receiving her share of the tasty treat.

Susanna Reich sets the table with her words, enticing readers to the meal placed before them; a single portion but nevertheless an important part of Julia Child's life.  Her descriptions flow like a melody.  To start and finish the narrative she uses the same group of sentences, a reflection by Minette about the sounds and smells wafting in and out of the Child home.

Her blend of the cat's daily activities with those of Julia and Paul is seamless.  French words and phrases are introduced into the story, enhancing the flavor.   The last pages are filled with an afterword, notes, sources, a glossary and pronunciation guide and an author's note.

Here is a single passage.

They nibbled croissants in cafes where cats curled on chairs.
They munched on baguettes in bistros where birds warbled in cages.
They dined on rolls in restaurants where little white poodles nestled at ladies' feet.

Out of habit, as is my custom,  I unfolded the book jacket which is designed as two windows.  The front as you can see features Julia, Minette and an array of ingredients, and an open book around her stove with notable architectural structures of Paris in the background.  The jacket back is a window with panes opening outward to the city with kitchen utensils on the counter and the wee little mouse looking from the corner, cheese in hand.

The book's cover though is not a replica of the jacket but a reversal of the final two page spread in the book.  Illustrator Amy Bates, using pencil and watercolor, then gives us endpapers, opening and closing pages in a red-and-white-checked tablecloth pattern.  Warm earth tones permeate throughout as the size and shape of illustrations compliment and extend the storyline.

Detail is exquisite; the numbers on the wall beneath measuring cups showing their capacity, the bent heads of Julia and Paul depicting their love of each other and life, and the period attire on all the characters.  Extras such as the apartment upper floor rooms shown as a cross-section, an invitation to join the Child's world, are an integral part of the illustrations.  If I could frame one illustration it would be the two page spread of Julia in four different working poses as she cooks her heart out in the Paris apartment kitchen with Minette beneath the table eyes glued to the mouse peeking from the hole under the stove.

The writing by Susanna Reich blended with the illustrations of Amy Bates brings to younger readers the essence of an unforgettable American cook in Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat.  On June 19, 2012 Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast focuses on the impressive artwork of Bates.  Susanna Reich has numerous links at her website for further exploration.

Follow this link for more biographical information on Julia Child coupled with a short video.

In this video Susanna Reich talks about her career in writing leading up to Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat.

This interview repeats some information in the previous video but expands on other details.

This combination of Julia Child moments is wonderful.


  1. What a beautifully written review! Especially love this:

    "Susanna Reich sets the table with her words, enticing readers to the meal placed before them; a single portion but nevertheless an important part of Julia Child's life. Her descriptions flow like a melody. To start and finish the narrative she uses the same group of sentences, a reflection by Minette about the sounds and smells wafting in and out of the Child home."

    You mentioned all the things I love most about this gorgeous book. The compilation video is wonderful too :). Thanks!

    1. You are welcome, Jama. This book is a true gem. It lets students know that not only was Julia Child a great cook but her passion extended to cats too. It's a wonderful perspective. Plus this is one of those books with appeal for all ages.