The Adventures of Miss Petitfour – written by Anne Michaels, illustrated by Emma Block
Tundra Books, 2015
The Further Adventures of Miss Petitfour – written by Anne Michaels, illustrated by Emma Block
Tundra Books, 2022
Miss Petitfour is not Mary Poppins. She does like children, and she can fly, but both her eccentricities and her empathy set her apart from one of her most obvious inspirations. In two episodic collections, so far, readers follow her, along with her human friends and collection of cats, as she helps her neighbors, indulges in creative pastimes, and evokes both fun and sophisticated lessons about language for children and adults alike.
As you read about Miss Petitfour, you will learn to like the fact that much of what happens is a digression, a word highlighted by both italics and a different color font. Similarly, a child named Carlos Cornelius Carruther sits, not in a stroller, but in a perambulator, and festooning appears as a way to decorate a Christmas tree. Most important, you will learn that eccentricity means “a quirky thing we like to do just because.” That definition summarizes the whole experience of the two books, with the quirkiness matched by the lovely illustrations by Emma Block.
Each chapter of Miss Petitfour’s adventures can stand alone, although in total the stories add up to a portrait of a colorful and compassionate character. Unlike Mary Poppins, who often gaslights her young charges (“Up in the air?…What do you mean, pray, up in the air?”), Miss Petitfour kindly helps out at the jumble sale in the first book, and teaches her young friend, Pleasant Patel, about anagrams in the second. One of my favorite chapters in The Adventures features Miss Petitfour’s philately (stamp collecting) and a near mishap with the extremely valuable first British postage stamp, the Penny Black. As the author, Anne Michaels, describes it to children or stamp neophytes, this stamp features “a lovely little picture of Queen Victoria wearing her crown, with her hair pulled back in what looks like a ponytail. Imagine a queen with a ponytail!” The description of Miss Petitfour captures the essence of pure fun without a practical purpose, as she pores over her album on a snowy day, accompanied by her cats.
When the valuable stamp sticks to a cat’s paw, and then takes flight out the window, chaos ensues, but everything is ultimately resolved with the help of friends. The combination of patience, chance, and community spirit add up to a satisfying conclusion. In the second book, Miss Petitfour prepares a picnic lunch, or burgoo, for the local racing event. As always, the text and pictures complement each other perfectly; readers will visualize the “piles of carrot swords and celery paintbrushes” along with seeing the illustration. Of course, there is a digression about the history and different varieties of olives. There is some confusion involving runners, cats, and a lucky charm, but the day ends happily with a delicious meal. By the way, “tail” and “tale” are homophones. Both and homage to classic children’s books and an up-to-date excursion to a slightly quirky world, both Miss Petitfour books are worth the trip, no flying is necessary.