Portrait of Audrey as a Young Girl

Little Audrey’s Daydream: The Life of Audrey Hepburn – written by Sean Hepburn Ferrer and Karin Hepburn Ferrer, illustrated by Dominique Corbasson and François Avril.
Princeton Architectural Press, 2020.

Kirkus Reviews deemed this lovely picture book bio of actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) as appropriate for “Audrey Hepburn completists.” Since I am one of those readers, I can only welcome this book (see my reviews here and here).

Written by Hepburn’s son and daughter-in-law, and illustrated by two wonderful French artists, Little Audrey’s Daydream is as unusual as the all-black outfit and white socks worn by Hepburn in Stanley Donen’s movie, Funny Face. The central premise of the book is that the young Audrey as narrator is looking forward into the future, dreaming of a life based on her love of performance, her yearning to have a family, and her desire to help humanity.  Dominique Corbasson (who passed away shortly after completing the pictures) and her husband, François Avril, have not attempted to duplicate in color pastels childhood photos of the real Audrey, but rather to create wholly original visions of a young girl’s visions.  Of course, these visions turn out to correspond to the accomplished and compassionate life of the adult Hepburn.

When I started to read this book, I was reminded of David Copperfield’s famous opening lines: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anyone else, these pages must show.”  In Audrey’s case, she remembers her mother saving her life during a bout with whooping cough. From there, there are both joys and obstacles in her journey.  Her idyllic childhood in Holland, captured in a picture of her ice skating past a Don Quixote-like windmill. Then an odious dictator, identified in the language of a child as “a horrible little man with a tiny mustache who screamed all the time,” invaded, and everything changed. To convey the scenes of occupation, Corbasson and Avril punctuate black and grey images of goose-stepping soldiers with the bright red of Audrey’s coat and hat, but also the threatening red of bombs exploding over her city.

Audrey’s home is a refuge, where she dreams of returning to her former life and of becoming a ballerina. Then her dreams become quite specific, each one predicting one of her performing triumphs. Instead of naming the as-yet unreal productions in which she will star, Audrey imagines interpreting “a princess who escapes from her castle, a poor flower girl who becomes a lady…a fashion model, and a regular country girl who moves to a big city and becomes quite a stylish dresser.” (That last reference is the most imaginative description of Holly Golightly which I have ever read!)

Corbasson and Avril’s drawings are so vibrant that you can image them selecting the color pastels from a box as they deliver Audrey as Eliza Doolittle, Audrey as the bookish bookstore clerk in Funny Face, and Audrey as Holly Golightly accompanying herself on the guitar as she sings “Moon River” on a New York City fire escape.  But there are many other fulfilling aspects of Hepburn’s life. The young Audrey imagines motherhood as “taking my boys to school and shopping for books and socks,” as she pushes a baby carriage, followed by a whimsical line of her dolls and stuffed animals come-to-life.”  Yet she never erases the memory of war, and promises herself that she will bring consolation and aid to children unfortunate enough to experience the same cruel reality, because “I know what it’s like to be hungry.”

Little Audrey’s Daydream uses a different approach to presenting an icon to young readers.  Just like them, she was once a child enclosed in a harsh reality. In her case, the dreams of escape and achievement became a reality.

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