Finding Francois by Gus Gordon
Puffin, 2020. ISBN: 9780143794141.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Alice is happy living with her grandmother, making creme brulee, reading, writing lists and visiting the shops on the way to the park where they eat their lunch. Her friends are the shopkeepers: the fish seller, the baker, the cheesemaker and Miss Clement, the dressmaker. They all say hello when she passes but now and again, she longs for someone her own size to play with. She reads a book called, Message in a bottle, and acts upon the idea, throwing a bottle with a message inside into the River Seine.
It is picked up by Francois Poulin a lone child on an island where his father works the lighthouse. He responds to her message and a correspondence develops. But when her grandmother dies, Alice is bereft and sends no more messages. One day Miss Clement with whom she is now living comes across the letters and Alice tells her of her search for a friend. Without further ado, Miss Clement takes Alice to visit the island where they all enjoy themselves over a cup of tea and lemon muffins, promising a return day in Paris. This wonderful story of finding a friend will touch even the coldest heart. Two lone children finding they have things in common as well as things they like that are not shared, come together, promising to keep up their correspondence even though a long way apart.
The water colour and line illustrations are soft and delicious, reflecting the concerns felt by both children in their search for a friend. On some pages the story is given in postcard templates, while other pages play with the white spaces. Some pages surprise; opening onto a bleak wintry night on the lighthouse or showing the waves that buffet the island.
Paris lies at the heart of this inviting book: French words beg to be translated, French books ask to be read, French food needs further research and the buildings are there to be recognised and applauded.
I love the gentle humour of the book: the girl's name mirrored in the hats worn by Francois, while her first name conjures up images of falling down a hole in the ground, while his name, Poulin is the French word for a foal, perhaps a timorous person. The Parisian background is stunning, impelling the eyes to soak up every image: the houses, markets, shops, fashion, streets, rivers, the beautiful buildings along the Seine and the batobus humming along its surface. This French treat is ready to be savoured.
Themes: France, Friendship, Grief, Humour.