Friday, May 04, 2012

Blog Tour: "Minette's Feast" As Creative Nonfiction


If you're looking for Day Five of the Minette's Feast Blog Tour, you're in the right spot.

Minette’s Feast by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Amy Bates,  is a lovely picture book with a Parisian setting and a charming story. A woman living in Paris and studying French cuisine adopts a cat, Minette, that far prefers the results of her own food prep—hunting for birds and mice—to the cassoulets, souffl├ęs, and pates her owner makes. She is finally won over, at least temporarily, by the leftovers from a dish that had taken three days to marinate.

The descriptions and illustrations of home, cooking, and food, food, food give Minette’s Feast the potential to become a comfort book, so it doesn’t matter that many young readers won’t know who the woman referred to in the book’s subtitle —“The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat”—is. Furthermore, Minette holds her own as a character. She does, after all, turn up her nose at meals prepared by a student at “Le Cordon Bleu, the famous cooking school.” Whether or not she will be won over to fine human food provides the narrative drive for this sweet piece of creative nonfiction.

That is what Minette’s Feast seems to be to me—creative nonfiction for kids. Creative nonfiction, as I first saw it defined years ago, is nonfiction that reads like fiction. It is written using  “elements borrowed from fiction to tell true stories,” as nonfiction children’s writer Melissa Stewart wrote earlier this year.  Descriptive language (“Julia and Paul were charmed by Minette’s delicate whiskers, her superior nose, and her quick little paws.”), dialogue (“Une maison sans chat, c’est la vie sans soleil!”), and the use of scenes (“And every time they went out for a walk, they enjoyed a fine, fine meal. They nibbled croissants in cafes where cats curled on chairs…”) are all examples of writing elements usually associated with fiction that a writer of creative nonfiction may choose to use.

In fact, in Lee Gutkind's collection of essays by writers of creative nonfiction, Keep It Real, scenes are described as the building blocks of creative nonfiction. They then need to be placed in some kind of order, or frame. In the case of Minette's Feast, Susannah Reich uses a traditional story frame to organize her scenes. A story is an account or retelling of something that happened told in a way that expresses meaning. That's why a beginning, middle, and end are so important to stories. We see the world of the story in the beginning, then a change or disturbance to that world in the middle, and the result of that change or disturbance in the end. We see what happened. Minette's Feast does read like a story--it's an account with a beginning, middle, and end of something that happened to Julia Child or to her cat, depending on which character you prefer to see as the protagonist. We also understand its meaning. This cat wouldn't eat Julia Child's cooking, for crying out loud!

Complete little stories turn up in all our lives (the story of how our parents met, the story of how we wrecked our new bikes, the story of how we came to settle into a career), but they aren’t always easily recognizable. And they don’t necessarily have any great significance or meaning beyond what happened to us. Creative nonfiction writers who choose to use a story frame have to recognize the potential for story while they are doing their research.  In her author’s note to Minette’s Feast, Susanna tells of having wanted to write about Julia Child for children “but I could never figure out how to make the story interesting to children.” She read Child’s memoir, My Life in France, “and discovered Minette, who inspired Julia’s lifelong love of cats. As a cat lover myself, I knew I had finally found my story.” 

Susannah’s story was actually Julia and Minette’s story. Through the use of creative nonfiction techniques, Susannah turned it into Minette’s Feast.

The Minette's Feast Blog Tour continues on Sunday at Great Kid Books. The earlier tour stops were:

Booktalking

Books Together

Tales from the Rushmore Kid

The Fourth Musketeer

After Sunday, the tour continues on Monday at Shelf-employed and Tuesday at ReaderKidZ

Don't forget about the Minette's Feast Giveaway. The drawing isn't until May 31.





2 comments:

tanita davis said...

I love even the title of this book, since Babette's Feast was something I read and cherished in college. Sounds utterly lovely.

gail said...

I thought of "Babette's Feast" when I first heard about this book, too! Susannah and I talked about it (in e-mails). We both loved the movie.