Julia Child: an Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures by Erin Hagar and Joanna Gorham. Duo Press, 2015.
It’s true: I was convinced to read this book by chatting with the author at Kidlitcon in October, after which I asked the library to purchase the book so I could read it. I didn’t really know much about Julia Child – I haven’t read her book, though we have it on our cookbook shelf as a classic, nor have I seen her cooking show. I do have a vague memory of seeing her kitchen at a long-ago visit to the Smithsonian. But there is this: we are a family that cooks, and I’ve always had a deep if uneducated respect for Julia Child for re-popularizing real cooking in America as well as for having the guts to learn her cooking in a male-dominated world.
This is a short and very kid-friendly biography, perfect for both school reports and biography lovers. It’s done in a style that the author told me was inspired by Brian Selznick, prose chapters interspersed with full-page wordless illustrations that look rather like movie stills, which depict significant moments. (They look to me like colored pencil and watercolor, in a highly realistic style, though I could be entirely wrong about the medium.) After showing the moment in France when she ate the meal that changed her life, it goes back to her childhood, her awkwardness and height, explaining the expected role of women at the time and Julia’s difficulty fitting in with it. It talks about her spy work in WWII – something of which I was entirely unaware – before moving on to the part, much later in her life, where she falls in love with French cooking and starts on the journey that made her famous. I found the book very engaging, great at emphasizing Julia’s skills and her contagious enthusiasm. The final chapter covers her legacy and the lasting impression she made on food culture.
I’ve long recommended children’s nonfiction to adults looking for concise treatment of a topic as well as to kids. For reference, I looked up “Julia Child biography” on Amazon. There are several, the most popular of which is currently the 2012 book Dearie by Bob Spitz. It clocks in at 576 pages in paperback. This sounds great for the serious Child fan, or the dedicated biography reader (there are many of these). For me, preferring my steady diet of fiction as I do, I found this book to have just the right balance of depth and length – enough to leave me with more knowledge and a deepened affection for Julia. I’d definitely recommend it both to kids and to adults looking for a more casual but still engaging look at this cooking pioneer. I guess I’m not the only who felt this way, because this book developed hold list and hasn’t been checked in at the library since I brought it back.