Susanna Reich has penned both historical fiction and biographies of artists and musicians for young readers. This year, she published Minette’s Feast, a picture book about Julia Child’s cat. She recently chatted with Kidsbiogarpher about her admiration for Julia Child, her affection for all things feline, and the experiences that inspire creative people. At left, she appears with feline friend Chloe in a photo by Laurel Golio.
Kidsbiographer: How did you learn about the bond between Julia Child and her cat, and what made you decide to write this Minette’s Feast?
Susanna Reich: I’ve been a Julia Child fan since childhood and had wanted to write a book about her for years. When I read her memoir, My Life in France, I immediately recognized a fellow cat lover. I thought it would be fun to introduce kids to Julia through the story of her first cat, Minette.
Kidsbiographer: Minette’s Feast is as much a tribute to feline nature in all its inscrutable glory as it is a picture-book biography of Julia Child. How did your relationships with cats shape your portrait of Minette?
Susanna Reich: I adore cats. They’re feisty, independent, intelligent, entertaining –and the cuddle factor should not be
underestimated. I drew on my knowledge of cats in fleshing out Minette’s personality and imagining what it would’ve been like to be Julia Child’s cat. And I have to thank Amy Bates for bringing Minette to life with her brilliant illustrations.
Kidsbiographer: Minette’s Feast incorporates snatches of French and internal rhyme, making the book ideal for reading aloud. How did your manuscript evolve into this feast for the ear?
Susanna Reich: Julia Child had a marvelous sense of humor and tremendous joie de vivre. For her, mid-century Paris was full of romance. In writing about her, I looked for words, rhythm and phrasing that conveyed spirit and personality, as well as time and place. All of that got filtered through my own sensibilities – in this case, my love of language and word play. I listen very closely when I write. I want the words to dance.
Kidsbiographer: What sort of research did you do to write about Julia Child, cooking, and mid-century Paris?
Susanna Reich: I read Julia’s memoir, every biography of her, and many, many articles and interviews. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a great resource, as was a wonderful volume of her letters, As Always, Julia. I watched videos, researched the history of cat food, and drew on my own experience, having studied French in school and been to Paris. As for cooking, I come from a family of foodies and my brother has worked in the gourmet food industry for 30 years. Thanks to him, I got to meet Julia when I designed the flowers for her 80th birthday party at New York City’s Rainbow Room.
Kidsbiographer: What’s the most gratifying response you’ve received from young readers about Minette’s Feast?
Susanna Reich: I’ve especially enjoyed seeing photos of pre-schoolers reading Minette’s Feast. For one child, the book has become “a bedtime favorite.” Another wanted it read to her “again and again.” It’s extremely gratifying to hear that kids are enthusiastic about the book. It makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing with my life. There have been several reviews by cats, as well. One gave the book “four paws.”
Kidsbiographer: Would you like to discuss any current or future projects?
Susanna Reich: Next up is a picture book about the young Beatles, called Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles, withAdam Gustavson illustrating. The story’s set in mid-century Liverpool, which is a far cry from Paris. But it’s still got humor – and lots of rock ‘n roll energy. Like Minette’s Feast, it focuses on the formative years of creative, artistic people who went on to fame and fortune. Kids need to understand how and why people become who they are, and the enthusiasms and forces that shape them. That’s been a pretty consistent theme in all of my books.