Like a delicious French pastry, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau (Abrams Books for Young Readers; 2014, $16.95, Ages 4-8) is a treat not only to behold, but to be enjoyed frequently perhaps with some steaming hot cocoa. After what may be my fourth or fifth reading I can still say I’m on my Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau honeymoon and continue to find wonderful things to devour on every page.
Observant readers will pick up clues that hat maker extraordinaire, Madame Chapeau is either a war widow, her soldier husband, or maybe her father, having fallen in combat; his hat on a kitchen chair as a sad reminder. Alone and lonely, even on that one night a year, her birthday, Madame Chapeau dresses up, resplendent in her birthday bonnet and takes a stroll to Chez Snooty-Patoot, “the best place in town.” But when she tumbles en route, a crow grabs her headpiece and flies off.
“My hat! My hat! Come back with my hat!
You simply can’t steal someone’s bonnet like that!
Someone quite special once made that for me.
You can’t steal my hat and fly off to a tree!”
Before she can say “baguette,” a baker offers her his trademark tall white hat and so begins the parade of people willing to help out with a loaner. From a policeman to a cowboy, to a Scotsman and a spy, to Charlie Chaplin – we all know his hat as we do the mime’s – total strangers yet lovely souls are being so very kind. I’m delighted, too, that both Beaty and Roberts chose to include such a diverse depiction of Parisians as it’s one of the most multi-cultural cities I know.
Without her special hat, but a birthday cake that’s been paid for, Madame makes her way to Chez Snooty-Patoot to dine alone or so she thinks! Meanwhile, an adorable young black girl whose mother was getting a fitting in Madame Chapeau’s earlier on in the story, is tailing the hat maker, yarn and needles in hand. (At one point we even see a mouse donning a cap matching the girl’s outfit!) NOTE: watch out for this mouse and his hats, as well as the dog and cat belonging to Madame.
“Excuse me, madame,” said a girl dressed in plaid.
“I made you a gift from some yarn that I had.
I made it myself, and I just want to say,
I hope you enjoy it … and Happy Birthday!”
This original new picture book, told in flawless, flowing rhyme is filled to the brim with exquisite, finely detailed watercolor and ink illustrations. Whether read-aloud or to oneself, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau, is like having a front row seat at Paris Fashion Week (paying homage to many designers) without the expensive price tag that goes along with it.
Click here to download a Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau hat activity sheet.
NOTE: Author Andrea Beatty added some cool info in the comment section which I’m paraphrasing here:
Beaty and Roberts show up in the restaurant. (She has a pen and is wearing Rosie Revere’s cheese hat. Roberts has a paint brush. Plus Iggy Peck’s parents make a cameo, too! All of the hats in the book are based on real hats. Some are David Roberts’ actual millinery designs.)
Click here for a link that shows some of the inspiration Roberts drew upon for his illustrations!
There’s a terrific twitter contest going right now to win 1 of 4 copies of the book. To enter, simply tweet a pic of yourself wearing a hat. #HappyBirthdayMadameChapeau. Winners will be announced on November 1!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel