Thursday, May 3, 2012

Blog Tour: Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and her Cat (Abrams, 2012)

Susanna Reich
I am delighted to welcome to The Fourth Musketeer author Susanna Reich, currently on a blog tour for her delightful new picture book, Minette's Feast:  The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat.  Susanna kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me and my blog readers.

Q:   I was fascinated about your personal connections with Julia Child; you recount in an author's note that you designed floral decorations for her 80th birthday party and were able to meet her at that time.  Please tell us a little bit about what you admire about Julia and what inspired you to write a picture book about her through the eyes of her cat.

A:  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.

Q:   The illustrations in this book are particularly charming and greatly enhance the story.  I was especially struck by how the illustrator, Amy Bates, incorporated a small girl who does not appear in the text but appears in many of the illustrations; were you able to have any input into the style of illustration that was chosen?

A:  As you know, the publisher of a picture book usually chooses the illustrator, and that's what happened with Minette's Feast. As soon as I saw Amy's sketches, I was captivated. Her images perfectly capture Paris in the 1940's and also the humor in the text. I love her color palette and compositions, the rhythm and balance of closeups and large spreads, and especially the way her figures convey emotion without ever being overly sentimental or so abstract that little kids won't get it.

Because this is a nonfiction picture book, it was important for me to have some input into the illustration process, especially when it came to historical accuracy. I gave our editor photographs, historical information, website links, and detailed feedback on the sketches, which were then passed along to Amy.

Q:   I enjoyed the fact that you used lots of French phrases throughout the story, giving the story local color.  Could you tell us a little about your research process for this book?  Did you go to Paris or cook from Julia's cookbooks to immerse yourself in her story? 

A:  Like everyone in my family, I love to cook, and I've used Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking for many years. I did find myself using her recipes more than usual while working on Minette's Feast. I'm buying more butter these days!

As for the French phrases, I studied French in high school and have been to France several times. Incorporating French was one of the ways I played with language in the text. For me, writing picture books is a form of play.

I approached the research as I would for any nonfiction project, by reading everything I could find on the subject—in this case, several biographies of Julia; her cookbooks and memoir, My Life In France; interviews and articles by and about her; and many of her letters, which are in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard. I also studied photos and videos of her.

Q:   This book includes an informative afterword that places Julia Child in the context of 20th century women's history.  Julia Child is your second work about a remarkable woman; your earlier work Clara Schumann:  Piano Virtuoso (Sandpiper, 2005) is an outstanding biography for young people.  Do you have plans for any future works dealing with women's history? 

A:  No specific plans at the moment, but I'm always looking for a good subject. I don't really think of it as women's history, but as human history. Both boys and girls should learn about the important, powerful, creative women who've come before us.

Q: Can you tell us what books are currently on your nightstand (i.e. that you are in the middle of reading)? 

In the first half of the year I especially enjoy reading some of the National Book Award-winners in the young people's literature category, as well as ALA award-winners in different categories. I especially enjoy the Batchelder Award books, because translated books appeal to the anthropologist in me. On my nightstand right now is Debby Dahl Edwardson's My Name is Not Easy.

Other books I recently enjoyed are G. Neri's Ghetto Cowboy, Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Padma Venkatraman's Island's End. On the adult side, my nightstand holds Gabrielle Hamilton's food memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter, a book of essays and short stories set in Paris, and a back issue of the magazine Gastronomica devoted to Julia Child. She's definitely influencing my reading choices at the moment.

Giveaway:  If you'd like to win a copy of this wonderful picture book--perfect for budding cooks, cat lovers, and Francophiles!--the publisher is celebrating the book's launch with a giveaway. Readers can enter to win a free, signed book by sending an email with the subject line "Minette's Feast giveaway" Winners will be selected on May 31.

To visit other stops on the blog tour for Minette's Feast, check out the following blogs:

Monday, April 30 - Booktalking interview with Susanna

Tuesday, May 1 - Books Together interview with Amy

Wednesday, May 2 - Tales from the Rushmore Kid interview with Susanna’s cat

Thursday, May 3 - The Fourth Musketeer interview with Susanna

Friday, May 4 - Original Content review and discussion of creative nonfiction

Sunday, May 6 - Great Kid Books guest post by Susanna about reading as a child

Monday, May 7 - Shelf-Employed interview with Abrams art director Chad Beckerman

Tuesday, May 8 - Readerkidz “Dear Reader” guest post by Susanna


shelf-employed said...

Great interview, Margo and Susanna. I've been following the blog tour. If you didn't get to Paris for your research,Susanna, perhaps it's time for a celebratory vacation! :)

PragmaticMom said...

Minette is her French friend that she writes her cookbooks with?