Happy birthday, Alice Babette! This is not just a wish today on Alice’s 139th birthday, but also a new children’s book by Canadian author Monica Kulling published a few weeks ago by Groundwood Books.
GertrudeandAlice join a long line of famous people that Ms. Kulling has featured in her books including Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, and Henry Ford. Other books have been about lesser known trailblazers such as Margaret Knight, the inventor of the paper bag making machine, and Lillian Gilbreth, the first female engineer with a PhD, who was immortalized by her children in the book Cheaper by the Dozen.
I heard about the new picture book from a friend in Canada who is part of my worldwide network of GertrudeandAlice fans – thank you Brent! The network is one of the most gratifying benefits of my longtime fascination with Our Ladies of Gay Paree! GertrudeandAlice news that I don’t receive through my GoogleAlerts, often arrives via this network.
This imaginative book begins with Alice waking up on her birthday wondering what the day will bring. Gertrude, she senses, is unusually reserved and doesn’t even wish her Happy Birthday. She decides to take a walk around Paris.
Meanwhile, Gertrude does have something up the sleeve of her billowy blouse! Her plan is to cook a surprise birthday dinner for Alice with stewed beef, creamed potatoes, vegetables and a pineapple upside-down cake (one of my specialties) for dessert!
With Basket by her side, Gertrude gets underway, but of course, things don’t go as planned – she is the writer after all and not the cook in this household! Her primary distraction is a special poem which she wants to write for Alice and “words flowed through Gertrude’s mind.”
By the time Alice returns from her walk, which includes a run-in with a jewel thief and a reward – enough said, you’ll have to read the book!- the kitchen is a mess and the food is ruined since Gertrude had abandoned the pots and pans for her writing desk in order to finish the birthday poem!
Alice to the rescue: the kitchen is cleaned, brownies are baked and a good time is had by all of the birthday guests.
The delicate, pastel illustrations by Qin Leng couldn’t be more perfect. It was fun for me to imagine possible inspirations for her GertrudeandAlice. Gertrude looks a bit like a mash-up between Oliver Hardy and Kathy Bates in “Midnight in Paris,” while Alice looks like three other “A”-listers, Audrey Hepburn, Anna Wintour of VOGUE and Anita Loos (of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” fame), a friend of Alice’s!
The pages with multiple illustrations are particularly wonderful each telling its own story.
The small details in many of the drawings reminded me of the filler drawings, Spots, in THE NEW YORKER – an open book here, stacked notebooks there, a random flower pot in a corner or mischievous mice under the stove!
It’s also fun that the illustrations do not evoke any particular period making this a timeless tale of longtime love and partnership. GertrudeandAlice’s clothes, though conservative, could have been purchased online yesterday or picked up in the women’s department at Le Bon Marché last weekend.
The birthday poem which Gertrude writes for Alice is not in the story, so I include one that was among the love notes which Alice shipped by chance with other Gertrude papers to the Yale University library in 1947:
“Baby precious, I can’t write
such sweet poetry as baby precious
but I can love baby precious as much
as baby precious loves me, yes
it is true my sweet joy and
pride and my lovely bride
and everything else beside
and thank you for a happy
birthday and I worked a little
too and thank you dear baby
precious your dear”
Happy birthday, Alice Babette!
The Author’s Note on the last page gives some information about GertrudeandAlice. One slight correction: it mentions that Alice wrote two books, her memoir What Is Remembered and her cookbook. Actually there was a second cookbook, Aromas and Flavors Past and Present (1958), but as Alice disliked this book so much because of the major changes her editor made to it, let’s say it’s a birthday gift to her that it wasn’t mentioned in the note!
Here are GertrudeandAlice in the kitchen of their country place circa 1942: