This is a gorgeous book – perfect to gift to a special young girl to read over and over or to just gaze at the delightful, delicious pictures. As well as being a sweet story, the book feels like a treasure. The hardcover is textured and embossed, the pages are thick, there are sweet berry endpapers and every picture looks like it belongs on the wall.
Written in well-resolved rhyming couplets, the story tells the tale of five French mice sisters, focusing on the youngest, Cecile, and her excitement at finally being old enough to join her sisters on their regular outing to the Sunday markets. Each older sister visits her favourite stall selling cheese, bread, berries and fashion, but Cecile wants to share her passion for baking and sets up her own table selling pies and tarts. There’s anticipation as she waits for her first customer, then disappointment when nobody buys her treats. Her sisters show sympathy and kindness and, in the end, Cecile’s stall is a success, reminding us all that being small does not preclude greatness.
The story has a lovely rhythm and is easy to read aloud, with a few fun play on words, such as “madam-mouselle” and playing “hide and squeak”. The rhyming, combined with the French flavour reminded me somewhat of the classic Madeline stories by Ludwig Bemelman. At the end of the book is a simple recipe for one of the French dishes mentioned in the story which, I think, is a lovely touch and a great prompt to try out some French recipes with a young reader. This story could also inspire a game of shops with a market twist, or a visit to explore your local markets.
I could rave on and on about the illustrations. They’re beautiful – soft and pastel, yet vibrant as well. I just love the pink and green combinations. There’s a lovely mix of pictures too, with close-ups of colourful market stalls, mice interspersed through the text and framed inside floral circles, as well as detailed drawings showing the quaint streetscape and bustling market square stretching across double pages spreads.
The Sisters Saint-Claire is written by Carlie Gibson, illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie, published by Allen & Unwin, October 2016, $19.99 (hbk) ISBN 9781760291563.