April 27, 2016

Happy Birthday, Alice Babette

by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2016

Happy birthday to Happy Birthday, Alice Babette, the new picture book from Monica Kulling and Qin Leng and their first collaboration.  While a fictionalized account of an April birthday of Alice B. Toklas which her friend and life partner Gertrude Stein seems to have forgotten, Happy Birthday, Alice Babette provides a enchanting glimpse into the Parisian life of the two women and their fondness for eachother and life in general.

While Alice spends the day walking the streets of Paris, enjoying a carousel ride, a puppet show and thwarting a would-be jewel thief, Gertrude secretly prepares a meal and a birthday poem for her dear friend.  But Gertrude is not familiar with cooking or the stove and oven, and she is distracted by her writing of the birthday poem.
Gertrude worked on Alice’s poem.  She wanted it to be as beautiful as a rose. Meanwhile, the pots on the stove bubbled and boiled.  Smoke rose from the oven. (pg. 26)
From Happy Birthday, Alice Babette
by Monica Kulling, illus. by Qin Leng

When Alice returns home after “a day of marvels”, she resumes her role of cleaning and cooking and supporting her writer friend, unaware that the real surprise for her birthday is still to come. 

Monica Kulling persuasively portrays the companionable, caring, and supportive relationship between these two iconic women of the early twentieth-century as they wrote and nurtured writing by creating a scenario in which their personalities are perfectly complementary.  Gertrude may fail at cooking and baking, unlike Alice Toklas who ultimately wrote a cookbook, but her genius at writing is clear.  And the two women together make for any extraordinary couple.  
From Happy Birthday, Alice Babette
by Monica Kulling, illus. by Qin Leng

I have used the term “lightness” for Qin Leng’s illustrations and in Happy Birthday, Alice Babette, the artist displays that same subtlely with every line and shape and colour.  Her depictions of the two women are remarkable, but it’s the elegance of her illustrations that bring forth the beauty and refinement of the time and place and characters.  

Help Gertrude celebrate Alice’s birthday (139 years ago on April 30, 1877) with Happy Birthday, Alice Babette and get a snapshot into what life must have been like for these two memorable literary figures of the early 20th century.

1 comment:

  1. Helen, YOU are a marvel! Merci!--Monica K.