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My New Friend, Anatole

Before Ratatouille, there was Anatole.

Although I do not yet have children, I have a good-sized collection of children's books that grace my personal bookshelves. Some of them I acquired thanks to very fortunate connections (friends who worked in children's publishing); some of them were gifts; some I bought for myself; and some are from my own cherished childhood collection. With a love of children's books and a passion for all things French, one would think that I would have already met the legendary Anatole. But I hadn't.

Several weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of enjoying lunch at the home of my friend, Joan, a retired librarian who has been introducing me to wonderful books for the past twenty years. Our lunch was an intimate affair - I thought the only guests would be me and my mother. Turns out the dining room was set to accommodate Joan, my mother, me, and an entire village of French mice. Joan made a delicious lunch of quiche and salad and savory muffins. As she finished her preparations in the kitchen and plated our food, she encouraged me to read aloud a children's book that had been carefully placed in front of my chair on the dining room table.

The book, by Eve Titus, starts like this: "In all France there was no happier, more contented mouse than Anatole. He lived in a small mouse village near Paris with his dear wife Doucette and their charming six children - Paul and Paulette, Claude and Claudette, Georges and Georgette." I instantly fell in love with our fictitious guests!

Anatole is an honorable mouse, and when he realizes that humans are upset by mice sampling their leftovers, he is shocked! He must provide for his beloved family - but he is determined to find a dignified way to earn his supper. He goes to work at the Duvall Cheese Factory, leaving tasting notes to guide the cheesemakers in their work - "good," "not so good," "needs orange peel" - and signing his name. When workers at the Duvall factory find his notes in the morning, they are perplexed - but they realize that this mysterious Anatole has an exceptional palate and take his advice. Soon, thanks to Anatole, Duvall Cheese Factory, is making the best cheese in all of Paris! They would like to give Anatole a reward - if only they could find him...

This year marks Anatole's 50th anniversary. And it is truly a classic, still fresh and charming and utterly delightful. I see so many possibilities for this wonderful book; I'd love to organize a reading of Anatole followed by a basic lesson in French cheeses. It would be great fun for both children and adults. Eve Titus wrote several books about the adventures of Anatole, and I cannot wait to read them all!  I thank my friend Joan for a wonderful lunch and for introducing me to a new friend. Anatole may be the smartest mouse in the world, but Joan is the sweetest woman.

As for me, I'm inspired to take a break. I think a little snack of crackers and fromage is in order...

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