Since we’re on a breakfast theme this week, I’ve got this vintage, full-of-pancakes, Newbery-Honor novel for you:
Pancakes — Paris, by Claire Huchet Bishop, illustrated by Georges Schrieber
He had just rounded the corner when he heard big footsteps behind him and somebody calling, “Charles! Charles!” and it was Jerry Brick, and he put a box in Charles’s hands, and John O’Connor, who had caught up with them, laughed and said, “Pancakes! Jerry got two packages of them this morning from home. And he gave me one….I’ve been lugging it around all day!…And now we give it to you.”
Of course, he said all this in English, and Charles did not understand a word of it except that the box was for him…But Jerry Brick said slowly, “Pancakes…crrêppes…”
After they had gone, he leaned against the wall in the black street, propped up a knee, and opened his schoolbag and slipped the package into it, so that nobody could see it as he climbed the stairway of the house. As he walked slowly up the rickety stairs he kept thinking of all Louise and Rémi had said about BEFORE, and suddenly he remembered about the crêpes! But that was what the American had been trying to say when he had given him the box!…Could it be possible that the box he had given him could make crêpes? It sounded fantastic. But you never knew with Americans. There was always magic with them…Well, he would not talk to a soul about it. Not even to his mother. It would be a secret. And a surprise.
Charles Dumont is 10 years old, living in post-war Paris. That’s just barely old enough to remember what life was like BEFORE the war; to believe, even, the older children’s tales of warm homes and shoes, milk and eggs, and luxuries of bananas and oranges and cocoa which they claim were enjoyed by everyday persons!
Charles lives with his mother and little sister Zézette. His father died during the war. Life is acutely difficult. Food is meager. Charles bears far more responsibilities than any Social Services agency would stand for in our day.
One spring afternoon, Charles meets two American soldiers — Jerry and John — who need his help finding their way in his neighborhood. Charles refuses payment; his mother has taught him never to accept charity. Yet when they hand him a mysterious package, jabbering something in English, Charles is left the proud owner of…what?
Turns out it’s American pancake mix. Now Charles is hatching a grand plan to surprise his mother and sister with crêpes for Mardi Gras, just as all Parisians would have done BEFORE. Only, he can’t read the English directions. The measurements are unintelligible. He has no milk, and not even the tiniest bit of fat to grease the pan.
Charles’ determination is met, in the end, by a tremendous outpouring of generosity, love, and jovial friendship from Jerry and John, all adding up to a pancake feast to rival any of the BEFORES!
Claire Huchet Bishop won a Newbery Honor for this novel, written in 1947. As an American born and educated in France, Bishop uniquely conveys both a cherishing of Paris, a fondness and respect for the French people of this era, and an equal dose of American pride. This poignant story portrays the gnawing poverty experienced by so many living in post-war Europe, as well as their courage and strength; the matter-of-fact resolve of the children and their adaptation to austerity, alongside the spilling-over joy that comes from sharing with those in need and providing abundance in place of privation.
Numerous lithographs in brown-white-and-black by artist George Schreiber bring the children and Parisian architecture, G.I.’s and American Embassy workers to life. His robust line and lively figures remind me of James Daugherty, and he manages to capture Charles’ emotions and world beautifully.
At just over 60 pages, it’s a great read-aloud for ages 7 and up. There’s a bit of French tucked in, with place names and phrases, so although it’s short, it would need a stout independent reader. I think a dish of delectable crêpes are called for now, don’t you?!