Foodie Books for Kids: Madame Pamplemousse and her Incredible Edibles

Do you talk with young fans of the movie Ratatouille? Maybe…maybe not…as it was *such* an adult film. Nevertheless, Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher (Bloomsbury USA, 2008) is a good book recommendation for those kids that love food, Paris, Ratatouille, dastardly villains, quaint stories…or a combination of these.

Madeleine (of course!) spends every summer working for her sinister Uncle Lard in his touristy, despicable Paris restaurant, The Squealing Pig. Naturally, Madeleine would slaughter Uncle Lard should they be pitted against each other in an Iron Chef competition…and Uncle Lard knows this, which is why Madeleine is relegated to dishwashing and errand-running all summer long. It is on a shopping trip for pâté that she follows a white cat (yes, there’s totally a parallel between this and Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit) into a rundown shop tucked away in a dark alley. Madeleine meets Madame Pamplemousse who gives her “Pâté of North Atlantic Sea Serpent with Green Peppercorn Mustard”. Afraid of Mme Pamplemousse, Madeleine quickly pays for the pâté and runs away. Unbeknownst to Uncle Lard, the mysterious pâté is fed to his customers. They swoon, mistake Uncle Lard as the chef responsible, and he skyrockets to super-stardom in the Parisian restaurant scene.

What follows is something very similar to Ratatouille: eventually, the world finds out that Madeleine is a great cook and Uncle Lard is a fraud. We find out that Mme Pamplemousse’s edibles evoke warm memories and feelings in those who eat it (Remember the scene in Ratatouille when the critic remembers scenes from his boyhood upon eating a bite of Remy’s ratatouille dish?). Naturally, the ending is happy and lovely.

You librarians will know what I’m talking about when I say this is not a “circbuster”. However, it shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a frothy, light gem of a story, perfect for the more serious and quieter intermediate reader who wants a cozy read. It has a delicate, subtle quality to it that we often associate with la belle France.

The illustrations by Sue Hellard suit the story perfectly – they have that refined line and quality that remind one of picture book art from another era. Some might find it odd that Uncle Lard is drawn as an anthropomorphic pig and the food critic (again, Ratatouille anyone?) is drawn as a weird beak-nosed, sunglass-wearing creature; this could confuse young readers. Ultimately, though, I enjoyed Hellard’s approach: I don’t believe Uncle Lard or Monsieur Langoustine actually looks like this, but Hellard was capturing their core personalities and depicting them physically. It’s quirky…which is so French.

The food writing? Wonderful. Kingfisher describes fantastical bottles in Mme Pamplemousse’s shop and the reader will wish they could peruse the shop themselves, exploring its nooks and crannies and all the food within. There are two passages that I particularly loved, and I want to share them both. Here is the first:

It took a moment for her to adjust to the candlelight, but what she noticed first was the smell. A cool, musty odour, like the air in an old church – but one that was made entirely out of cheese. She could detect a deeper, spicier note beneath that was warm and exotic and reminded her of a Middle Eastern bazaar. But that was not all, for Madeleine had a highly developed nose; there was also a scent like lavender that has been drying in hot sunlight.

Um, I can’t recall ever before getting such a tremendous sense of place through the smells described to me in a book. But I certainly did here. And the second passage:

But even though Madame Pamplemousse sells the most delicious food ever tasted, her shop is by no means famous in the city of Paris. And nor would she ever want it to be. For she makes enough to get by and is happy each day to awake at dawn, drink a small black coffee and open up her shop, serving her customers and meeting with her suppliers. And come sundown she likes nothing better than to sit on her balcony above the rooftops with her cat, Camembert, discussing the day’s events over a bottle of Violet-Petal Wine.

Now, I don’t know what Violet-Petal Wine is but don’t you wish you could try some??? Me too. This is about the only passage that delves into Mme Pamplemousse’s character, but it’s just the perfect amount. It’s restrained, telling you enough but not too much. Again, so French.

I loved this book, and it might just be my favorite non-picture foodie book for kids thus far. Which is saying a tremendous amount, as I loved Dear Julia and The Year the Swallows Came Early. In fact, I might be doing all three of these books a disservice by comparing them, as they are all so very different from one another. Want to read good food writing and a book for young people? Madame Pamplemousse, Dear Julia, and The Year the Swallows Came Early are the go-to recently published books.

Eat, drink, and dream of Violet-Petal Wine.


Tarie Sabido said...

Thanks for this review! Now I want to read Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles!

Tarie Sabido said...

Ack! Just read the review for The Year the Swallows Came Early. Now I want to read that too!

Unknown said...

Hi Tarie, you can read both! Read Madame Pamplemousse now...it was published October 2008. And read Swallows later, as it doesn't come out until February 2009. Problem solved!

Anonymous said...

Wondeful review, and wonderful book. I'll have to check out the others.