It appears to be the year of Julia Child and her cats, and as a cat and Child-lover, I am frankly thrilled. Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Amy Bates, is the first of these two themed books from Abrams to hit our household, and it has already become a bedtime favorite with parents and child.
Julia and Paul Child did not have children, the discussion of which constitutes one of the more heartbreaking passages in My Life in France, but they did have cats. When Minette, their first cat, showed up on their doorstep, Julia noted, "Our domestic circle is complete." Pulling from Julia and Paul's letters as well as Julia's biographies, Minette's Feast tells the story of how Minette came to live and eat with the Childs in Paris.
Not only do Amy Bates' Hopper-esque illustrations capture the personalities of both Julia and Minette, but they make me want to spend so much time on individual pages -- absorbing every pinch of detail she's squirreled away in each one -- that Bug's two-year-old patience is sorely tried. I want to take in the length of Minette's whiskers, the shape and color of her eyes, every last morsel of food, and marvel over how Bates managed Julia's distinctive face and unruly hair. For his part, Bug just wants to get to the page where Minette chases a Brussels sprout tied to her tail. Once there, he chortles long and hard like he never has for any other book.
Not every bit of text rhymes or patterns out a beat, but the few cases it does are enchanting: "And day and night, she could smell the delicious smells of mayonnaise, hollandaise, cassoulets, cheese soufflés, and duck pâtés..." And then there's my favorite repetition and internal rhyme, "But of course, mouse and bird were much preferred." Sprinkled throughout the story are smidges of French words and expressions that are also contained in a glossary and pronunciation guide in the back of the book.
What I adore most about Minette's Feast is how Reich recasts Julia Child's famous culinary beginnings -- her trips to the markets, her culinary experiments at home, and her tenure at Le Cordon Bleu -- as merely a quest to get her tortoiseshell "poussiequette" to eat something other than mice.
A contributor to Bay Area Bites since its inception, Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic is a Bay Area food writer and editor. Her first book Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate is a humorous non-fiction narrative and exposé on the lives of picky eaters. It releases from Perigee Books July 3rd.