Julia Child would have turned 100 this August, a centennial that will be celebrated by many venues across the country, including Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena. (Child was a Pasadena native.) The anniversary is also the occasion of the publication of a terrific new children's book by Jessie Hartland called Bon Appetit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child. Released later this month by Schwartz & Wade, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, Hartland's book is an illustrated guide to the cookbook author, pioneering television chef and champion of French cuisine.
Hartland, who both wrote and illustrated the book, presents Child's story as an endearing biography. The book reads like a goofy scrapbook, with handwritten anecdotes (“high school French class is a disaster”) scrawled between charming drawings like a young girl might scribble (“Bouillabaisse MUST have saffron!”) in an actual diary. It's a wonderful technique, and serves to capture the wacky genius (See: Child's The French Chef episodes and whole chickens) of Child's personality and method.
Like all good kids books, this one doesn't make the mistake of talking down to its young audience. Thus the book could easily function as a primer for an adult who wants to learn more about Child's remarkable career just as much as a kid's bedtime (or dinnertime) story. Besides, reading Bon Appetit! is a ton more fun than checking a Wikipedia entry.
Filled with hilarious bits (“Paul is next transferred to Oslo, Norway, for two years. Julia works on her skiing, gives some cooking lessons and learns some essential Norwegian: Jeg er sulten! * *I'm hungry!”) and relevant information (“For the first time, cookbook illustrations are drawn from a cook's viewpoint.”), the book is both entertaining (“She is famous for painting a toilet seat in her [Smith] dormitory RED.”) and fascinating (“On the suckling pig show she carefully cleans the pig's ears and teeth before cooking.”).
Perhaps best of all, the book gets Child's spirit (“Once Julia pulls a used bundle of herbs from a stockpot and says, 'It looks like a dead mouse!'”) of playfulness, curiosity and dedication. As such, Hartman's book is just the sort a kid and a parent (or even non-parents) could happily read, ideally before decamping to the kitchen to whip up a batch of crepes (recipe included).
A copy of the book would fit nicely — in size, genre and quality — beside Alice Waters' classic 1997 kids book, Fanny at Chez Panisse. We can't think of a higher recommendation.