Artistic City: The Mona Lisa Caper

The Mona Lisa Caper
Did you know that in 1911 the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre? I didn't. Bu then again, art history is not my strong point. In Rick Jacobson and Laura Fernadez's The Mona Lisa Caper, Vincenzo, a Louvre employee, decides to return the famous painting to Italy, where he feels it rightfully belongs. The narrator of the story is none other than the Mona Lisa herself.

I was also surprised at how important the city's role is in The Mona Lisa Caper. Mona Lisa narrates how she remembers the sights and sounds of the streets before she was put in a museum. When Vincenzo takes the painting he relies on the hidden, twisting alleyways to keep away from the authorities. While "free", Mona Lisa watches the city from her window, enjoying its vibrancy.Vincenzo decides to take the painting out of Paris but it is not until he gets to the country that he can finally relax and Mona Lisa's narration contrasts the busy city with the sounds of the countryside.

The Mona Lisa Caper is shorter than the typical 36 page picture book and has some flaws, but in my opinion it's success is due to the narrative voice of the painting. If you are interested in art history it's a fun choice.

Want More?
Other Mona Lisa Theft titles, which I have not read but might be worth taking a look at: Who Stole Mona Lisa?, The Stolen Smile, and Steal Back the Mona Lisa.

Big Kid says: Is that picture in France now?


Friendly City: Everybody Bonjours!

Everybody Bonjours!I remember reading Leslie Kimmelman's Everybody Bonjours! to my older son when he was 4 and both of us setting it aside and never looking at it again. However, now I've read it to my 2 year old and he cannot get enough of it. He loves me to read it again and again.

Of course, my 2 year old has no concept of Paris as a place but I understand why this book it is so appealing to him. Kimmelman's tightly controlled rhyming text takes us on a whirlwind tour of events perfectly expressed for the 2 year old's mind. We bonjour (I'm assuming that if we can "verb" the word "access", we can certainly accept a "verbing" of the word "bonjour", right?) high, low, soft, loud, in crowds, while eating, sleeping... all the important toddler activities.  Comfortably, all of this exciting "bonjouring" takes us right back home, where we can "hello."

Sarah McMenemy's colorful illustrations highlight the narrator in a variety of Paris locations, both famous and ordinary. Since two year olds are not interested in landmarks for their own sakes, our girl guide in a red dress is likewise interested in men with brooms rather than the Sacre-Coeur, the gargoyles rather than the Notre Dame and the musicians, rather than the Centre Pompidou.  On each page the little reader can find Monsieur LeMousie in odd places (and very oddly, completely out of proportion to the rest of the illustration). A fun map in the end pages will help little ones retrace the journey in the book  descriptions of the locations are included. I didn't bother reading them to my 2 year old, but they are nice for older children.

Fun, quick, light and cheerful. C'est bon. 

Want More?
Read a review at The Well-Read Child, or Pied Piper Picks,  or Seven Impossible Things.
Visit the author's website.
Visit the illustrator's website

Little Kid says: Bojoo book, please.


Familial City: The Family Under the Bridge

The Family Under the BridgeI am madly trying to get in the last few Paris books left in the pile before the end of April!

Natalie Savage Carlson's 1959 Newbery classic The Family Under the Bridge may not be on your radar but it should be.

In Paris, congenial Armand is a self-proclaimed hobo and likes it that way. He professes that living free without any obligations is how he wants to spend his days. He definitely does not want any children messing things up. That is, until he meets a recently homeless (and fatherless) family living under his bridge during the frigid Christmas season. While the mother works during the day, Armand takes the children around Paris. They manage to worm their way into his heart (which was never as hard as he pretended it to be) until finally he decides to sacrifice, get a job (don't worry, not a taxing one) and warm home for his new found family.

This is a delightful, sensitive, and touching story with lots of great Paris details. The busy workings of the city are woven into the text. The magical adventures include: watching crepes being made (again with the food!), gypsy fortunes being told in Notre Dame square, walking along the Seine next to ancient buildings, visiting the chaotic food market, a Christmas service under the Tournelle Bridge, and many, many other tantalizing visits to other Parisian locations.

A great read aloud for children ages 5/6 and up, or a read alone for ages 8/9 and up.

Want More?
Read a longer review at Books 4 Your Kids.
The image of  Armand as a "happy homeless" should be tempered with some discussion about the stark realities of homelessness.
Just go ahead and book your tickets to Paris right now.  You know you want to.

Big Kid says: Why didn't he want to live in a house?


Mouse City: The Secret City

The Secret Circus
Only the Parisian mice know how to find a secret circus hidden deep in the city. Lucky the reader who follows the mice, step by step to their wonderful secret world and enjoy the circus festivities with the tiny creatures.

Even though we don't actually get to view much of Paris proper in Johanna Wright's The Secret Circus, I'm including it in "April in Paris" because I absolutely adore the illustrations. I won't bother writing much more since many, many reviews have already been written (see below in "Want More?") by more talented reviewers than I. Suffice it to say that in the glimpses we do get of Paris, it is easy to understand how it came by the moniker "City of Lights."

Want More?
Visit the author's website, view her artwork or read her blog. I love the look of her next book, about a common urban animal (doesn't look as though it is set in the city, however.)
Read a thorough review at Fuse #8 -- also includes lots of links to interviews and reviews.
Wright's website links to several interviews and reviews of her book.

Little Kid says: Night Sky!

Artistic City: Hugo & Miles in I've Painted Everything!

Hugo and Miles In I've Painted EverythingI've reviewed several books about Parisian artists, but here's one about how seeing art in Paris can be inspiring.

In Scott Magoon's Hugo & Miles in I've Painted Everything!, Hugo the elephant has painted everything in his home town. Everything. What's left to paint? Fortunately, friend Miles has the perfect suggestion: why not take a trip to Paris for inspiration? (I can't think of a better idea myself, frankly.) After seeing the city, lots of art and dabbling in cheesy puns (Hugo-mongous, Hu-glow, Van Hugo... you get the idea), Hugo is inspired. He rushes home to Cornville (after reading the puns, this name is painfully appropriate.), where he can "paint everything all over again, only differently." Now that he can paint everything from various angles, in various color media, in various sizes... he'll never run out of ideas.

If you are looking for a children's book about artistic expression Hugo & Miles in I've Painted Everything! is pretty good fun. It presents the ideas in an entertaining and accessible format without becoming remotely esoteric. Hugo and Miles journey around the city looking for inspiration will be familiar to many of us looking for artistic genius to strike. If only we could all go to Paris to do so.

Thanks to Brimful Curiosities for suggesting this book.

Want More?
Read a thorough review that lets you in on many of the book's jokes at Jen Robinson's Book Page.
Visit the author's website.

Big Kid says: Let's do some drawing, now.


Farmyard City: A Spree in Paree

A Spree in PareeHonestly, except for the fact that the illustrations looked fantastic, I didn't think I would like this book. I mean, a book about farm animals taking a trip to Paris? I was worried it would be trite. But then the premise of many a children's book can seem silly on paper.

But I did like Catherine Stock's A Spree in Paree, perhaps because Stock wholeheartedly embraces the silliness of farm animals loose in the city. Every summer on their farm, Monsieur Monmouton and his gaggle of animals host children and families from Paris. The farmer wonders if he should visit Paris but who will look after the animals? The obvious solution is to bring them along. Eh Bien. In the city, the geese love the bateau mouche, the sheep ogle the fashions, and the chickens cackle at the can can dancers. It is a tiring, but enjoyable trip and when everyone returns to the farm they are already planning their next getaway...

Stock's watercolors do not fail to illustrate the requisite Parisian landmarks, but their appeal lies in the amusing antics of the farm animals and their overwhelmed farmer. The absurd chaos of the animals running loose in the big city is set up in contrast to the bucolic scenes in the country in a way that cannot fail to charm the reader.

Want More?
Read Adam Gopnik's intriguing review (and about children's books set in Paris in general) from The New York Times Book Review.
For the further farmyard adventures read A Porc in New York.
Visit the author's website.

Big Kid says: Why is it called a bateau mouche?
Little Kid says: Red Truck!


Dancing City: Chasing Degas

Chasing DegasIn the painting The Dance Class, Degas captured for posterity a yellow-sashed dancer scratching her back. How embarrassing.  Eva Montanari makes this dancer the central character of her book Chasing Degas. After a rehearsal, the young dancer finds that Degas has left his bag of paints in the dance studio. She chases all over Paris after Degas, knowing that she must get back to the Opera House in time for that night's performance.

Along the way our dancer meets other artists: Renoir teaches the dancer about seeing color, Cassatt is busy painting her famous Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, Monet bemoans the changing light.

Several of the Paris scenes are cleverly inspired by famous Impressionist paintings (they are identified in the author's note).  Montanari's Impressionist-style illustrations are lovely. I'm not knowledgeable enough to deduce if they are pastels or pencils -- maybe a combination. Fortunately she doesn't just try to copy Degas' style, but lets her own vision shine through.

A charming book to introduce Paris as The City of Artists.

Want More?
Read an interview with the author at Seven Impossible Things (includes images of Montanari's other art, too).
Visit the author's web page.

Big Kid says: This book is for girls, it has ballet in it. [Mom hides her head in shame.]


Artistic City: Picasso and Minou

Picasso and MinouIn P. I. Maltbie's Picasso and Minou, Pablo Picasso is living in Montmartre with his cat, Minou. Minou is not a fan of Picasso's depressing Blue Period paintings. Neither, it seems, is anyone else, for Picasso is so poor he cannot afford to feed Minou and turns him out into the streets. Minou, however, makes friends with a band of circus performers who give the hungry cat a sausage. The loyal cat gently carries the sausage home to share with his artist friend. Minou hopes that by introducing Picasso to his new friends they might bring a little joy into his life. Lo and behold.... Picasso's begins his Rose Period and his paintings sell like hotcakes.

I really enjoyed this book. There are so many themes in this book that a reader can latch on to: friendship and loyalty, artistic dedication and inspiration, how color represents mood, ways of seeing the world, artistic expression, etc. The illustrations are a treat; Pau Estrada's use of color and attention to detail bring life to the story. There is an author's note at the end which fills us in about the real story of Minou, plus a photo of Picasso with his cat!

Paris is forever linked with The Painterly Life. There are a number of interior scenes of the artist's studio, with bits of the city out the window. One of my favorite "shots" of the city is when Picasso puts Minou out into the street and we get to see the low rise row of simple apartments bordering an urban square.  And since this is the Big City: real estate is King.... When Picasso is poor he lives in Montmartre, where the White Dome of Sacré-Coeur figures prominently. However, when his paintings start to sell his new and larger digs sport a view of the Eiffel Tower....

Location, location, location.

Want More?
Maltbie also wrote a picture book about Monet: The Painter Who Stopped the Trains.
Visit the illustrator's website.
Read an interview with the author at California Readers.
See some of Picasso's Blue Period paintings (yes, they are rather depressing) or his Rose Period paintings.
You can always visit your local museum to see a Picasso in person. It seems to me almost every museum has at least one Picasso.

Big Kid says: Is Picasso at the Metropolitan Museum? 
Little Kid says:  Cat!


Playful City: Squiqqle's Tale

Squiggle's TaleOriginially published in French under the title, Au Jardin du Luxembourg, André Dahan's Squiggle's Tale uses the time tested literary device of irony to introduce us to the joys of playing in the park.

It's too bad this book is out of print and, I'm guessing, is going to be hard to find because it's format is very appealing to children. Squiggle writes home to his parents about his good behavior during an outing with his cousins at the Luxembourg Garden but the illustrations reveal a completely different story.  Squiggle may confess to having "dipped our toes in [the fountain] just a tiny bit" but fails to mention the dive they took into the water. He writes that he and his cousins "help rake leaves" in the park but the illustration is of the pigs jumping in and scattering a pile of leaves. Of course, all ends happily, as it usually does in Paris (perhaps with the exception of a few picked flowers).

Dahan's appealing and colorful illustrations are reminiscent of Impressionism and we get a thorough tour of the famous park. I love books that are set in urban recreational spaces as they show that kids (and adults) can experience free range play and a variety of activities "off the streets." Who wouldn't love to see a Punch and Judy show, ride a carousel, roll down a lush green hill, play card games and jump in a pile of leaves, all without leaving the exciting city of Paris?

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
I had trouble finding much on Squiggle's Tale, but his book My Friend the Moon, seems to be more well known (also OOP).

Big Kid says: That is not what really happened. What he wrote in his letter.
Little Kid says: Pig!


Shopping City: Mama's Perfect Present

Mama's Perfect Present (Picture Books)If you are looking for a Paris picture book sans landmark, well you've come to the right place.

In Diane Goode's Mama's Perfect Present, brother and sister take their dog, Zaza, shopping. They are hoping to find the perfect birthday present for their Mama. Along the way they consider flowers, shoes, an elaborate cake, a splendid red dress and song birds. However, Zaza's giggle-inducing antics reveal the shortcomings of each choice. Any parent who has received a handmade gift from her child will appreciate the gift the sibling's finally settle on.

In Mama's Perfect Present, 1920s (possibly 30s?) Paris is a world of fashionable shops and a mix of hardworking, elegant and perhaps a bit snooty grownups. Goode's illustrations are extremely appealing and I found the "Frenchness" of the adult faces very amusing. Although there is no Eiffel Tower or Champs Elysees, there is a famous French painting which will take you by surprise.

This is one of my 2 year old's favorite books.... and for good reason.

Want More?
Read Goode's other book about the siblings looking for Mama in a Parisian train station, Where's Our Mama?(I'll review it, too, if I get a chance!).
Visit the author's website.
Read a Q&A with the author.

Little Kid says: I want the dog book.


Kosher City: Five Little Gefiltes

Five Little Gefiltes We will take a brief break from our tour of Paris to bring you a book you might enjoy this Passover.

Dave Horowitz's Five Little Gefiltes is a strange little book, but I found it highly amusing . In this Jewish deli version of "Five Little Ducklings," five little gefiltes go out one day despite their mother's "Oy Vey!" The fish balls take in a play, swim in the bay and crash a buffet, among other adventures. But, of course in the end they return to their kvelling mama proving that each is, indeed, a mensch.

New York City provides the backdrop for the shenanigans of the gefiltes and Horowitz cleverly includes Yiddish words (there is a glossary in the back) in the asides.  It's not a Passover book per se, but would be a fun to read as you for the holiday.

Want More?
This book is included in Kveller's  Top Ten New Jewish Books for Kids.
Visit the author's website.
Watch the book trailer.

Big Kid says: That was crazy.
Little Kid says: Oy Vey!


Soaring City: Come Fly With Me

Come Fly With MeSatomi Ichikawa's  Come Fly With Me evokes the same comforting mood that pervades her other Paris Book, La La Rose (see my review here). Again, Ichikawa's main characters are cuddly toys. This time best friends airplane and stuffed dog decide to go "Somewhere." That "Somewhere" turns out to be the White Dome of the Sacré-Coeur in Paris. Along the way, they encounter some minor weather trouble, but not enough to dampen the spirit of adventure. Upon arriving at their destination a beautiful surprise awaits them because "the best part of going Somewhere... is surprise."

As with Ichikawa's La La Rose, this is not a book "about the landmarks of Paris." Ichikawa's illustrations of the friends' journey offers a variety of views of the city: from flying low above the steep Paris stairways, to skimming rooftops, to soaring aerial perspectives. And truly, is there any city in the world which presents a more beautiful collections of rooftops?

Just like La La Rose, Come Fly With Me is a big hit with my toddler. Adventure, Friendship, Paris, Stuffed Toys and a Rainbow? What more could a young explorer need?

Want More?
Read my review of Ichikawa's La La Rose.
Read more about the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre at its web page.
Read a professional review at Publisher's Weekly.

Little Kid says: A rainbow!
Big Kid says: Can we go to the top of that building?


Cheesy City: Anatole

AnatoleI'm not sure how Eve Titus and Paul Galdone's Caldecott winner, Anatole, escaped my attention before this, but I was utterly charmed by the tale of this cheese-loving mouse.

Anatole, who regularly rides his bicycle into Paris to look for food scraps learns that humans do not like mice at all. Mon Dieu! Anatole, conscientious mouse that he is, decides that in return for a few morsels of cheese from a Parisian cheese factory he will leave his suggestions for improvement for each cheese variety. As you can imagine, the mouse's opinions are right on target, making the cheese factory incredibly successful. The factory owners make Anatole the VP in charge of Cheese Tasting, thus the little mouse is free to bring food home to his family, making Anatole the "happiest, most contented mouse in all France."

The city of Paris doesn't play a large role in this book. The mice live in a miniature version of a French village right outside of Paris. Anatole only experiences the city at night, and mostly at the feet of its occupants or dwarfed by a huge cheese factory.  Still, one gets the impression that being accepted (if only in secret) by such a huge cheese eating metropolis increases the importance of Anatole's accomplishments... or maybe that is just my own projection.

I'm noticing that many of these books set in Paris make me very hungry.

Want more?
I have not read them all but there are more Anatole books (which, except for the first, are out of print): Anatole and the Cat, Anatole and the Piano, Anatole and the Pied Piper, Anatole and the Poodle, Anatole and the Robot, Anatole and the Thirty Thieves, Anatole and the Toy Shop, Anatole in Italy, Anatole Over Paris

Big Kid says: That was a good book.
Little Kid says: Mouse on bike!
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