________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 39. . . .June 10, 2016


Happy Birthday, Alice Babette.

Monica Kulling. Illustrated by Qin Leng.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover & pdf, $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55498-820-4 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-821-1 (pdf).

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.

Review by Linda Ludke.

*** /4


Gertrude was a writer. She wrote mostly at night. During the day, she talked about writing or sat around thinking about it.

Alice was the one who cooked and cleaned and typed and shopped. She also encouraged Gertrude, because no one else seemed to understand or appreciate her friend’s work. ”


Alice Babette wakes up on the morning of April 30, anticipating a “day filled with surprises.” Although her best friend, Gertrude, seems to have forgotten her birthday, Alice enjoys an event-filled stroll through Paris. While Alice rides on the carousel at the Luxembourg Gardens, takes in a puppet show and even thwarts a jewellery store heist, Gertrude is planning a surprise dinner and penning a poem for her mate. Gertrude’s literary skills far exceed her culinary talents, and she needs a remedial lesson from a neighbour on how to operate the stove: “‘This switch is on,’ he said. ‘This one is off. ‘And this dial works the oven.’” When the perfect poetic line pops into Gertrude’s head, she becomes distracted and doesn’t notice the “pot lids tap-danc[ing].” Alice returns home to a messy kitchen and, inedible, burnt food. All is not lost as an impromptu party quickly ensues, full of conversation, merriment and poetry.

     Qin Leng’s fluid, ink and watercolour illustrations capture the chic Parisian streetscape and the inviting Stein salon at 27 rue de Fleurus. There are many small details that captivate, like the hustle and bustle in the outdoor farmer’s marketplace and the teetering stacks of books that surround Gertrude.

     Monica Kulling, acclaimed author of the “Great Idea” series of picture book biographies, bases this fictionalized story on Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Tolkas. Details of their lives are woven seamlessly into the storyline, like Gertrude’s experimental writing style (she wanted to write a poem “as beautiful as a rose”), and Alice’s infamous brownies. An endnote also provides more historical information, but young readers don’t need a lot of back story to enjoy this story about friendship.


Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, ON

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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