Book Reviewed: The Pink Umbrella – Amélie Callot and Geneviève Godbout, Tundra Books, 2018, translated from the French, Rose à petits pois, by Lara Hinchberger, Edited by Tara Walker and Jessica Burgess, Les Éditions de la Pastèque, 2016)
Adele is the proprietor of a neighborhood café in a French village. Not only does she serve delicious food and make sure that her tables are decorated with exquisite flowers, but her establishment is a home away from home for everyone who needs a place to talk, celebrate, fall in love. Lucas is a grocer, but think of him as a combination of Jean Gabin, Charlie Chaplin in City Lights, and Chef Linguini from Pixar’s Ratatouille. “Lucas is very reliable, and he always takes off his cap when he comes into the café.
Adele is kind, beautiful, and fortunate enough to have a rewarding career. Her only problem seems to be that she succumbs to depression when it rains. On those days, as fewer customers venture out to her establishment, “…she shuts down the café, rolls up in her quilt and waits for the sun to take the place of the clouds. Then one day, a beautiful pair of pink rubber boots appear, followed by a series of other prêt à porter items suitable for bad weather. By the end of the book, the mystery is solved.
Am I watching a French movie? No, I’m reading, and viewing, an adorable children’s book that is not afraid to remind you of a series of animation stills.
Geneviève Godbout has studied animation in Montreal and Paris, has worked for Disney, and illustrated several books, including a Golden Book about Johnny Appleseed, and her illustrated version of Anne of Green Gables, adapted by Kallie George, will be released (also by Tundra Books) in September.
Adele, Lucas, and all the props of their village are drawn with lush colors, improbably proportioned physiques, and, naturally, stylish clothes. I found myself entranced by each picture, completely aware of the artificiality of the surfaces and the deliberate imitation of an animated film.
I watched Adele hopefully inquiring if the boots belong to her friend Emma, a dressmaker who is enjoying a cup of tea with her possibly significant other Thomas the mechanic. I was delighted as Adele tried on the shocking pink raincoat, which Audrey Hepburn might have worn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And of course, (spoiler alert!), who could fail to be moved by the sight of Adele and Lucas walking together under their polka-dotted umbrella, she in pink and he in green waterproof clothing? Amélie Callot’s text is equally cinematic in language, and brief when called for: “And so they went.”
Is this book for children or their parents? I don’t think it matters. The bright colors and cheerful portraits of well-dressed people, and the simple narrative, in which characters find the happiness that they clearly deserve, will appeal to young children without a sense of irony, and to Francophile parents, as well.