As adults few things can truly take us back to our childhood, making us wonder, smile, laugh and play like we used to. The moment you open the pages of the children's book Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau, you are immediately transported there. The clever rhythmic pattern of the words combined with spectacularly detailed drawings have you devouring every inch of each page, not wanting to turn the page over until you have analysed every inch. The story holds a beautiful message about friendship and giving. With a sprinkling of famous iconic hats by some of the world's greatest milliners and a sweet story line, what's not to love? If you know a creative child, or someone who is a child at heart they will love this book! Here the author Andrea Beaty answers a few questions about this beautiful book.
What inspired you to write this book?
Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau happened because of a lovely afternoon I spent with illustrator David Roberts in an art deco-era establishment in New York City. When David told me that he had studied fashion illustration at university, I was not shocked. All his characters in Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer are so elegant and stylish. When he told me that he had been a milliner in Hong Kong after school, I knew I had to write him a hat book. And so I did!
Can you tell us a little about the book for those not lucky enough to get their hands on a copy yet?
The story is simple: Woman wears hat to birthday dinner. She trips en route. Crow steals hat. People offer other hats. She rejects them until the perfect and unexpected hat is presented. Cake. It’s simple, and yet, the book is about so much more. It is about kindness and loneliness and loss and friendship. It is about connection.
It was our editor, Susan Van Metre, at Abrams Books for Young Readers who found the heart of the story as she always does with my books. Susan asked the simple question: Why was this birthday hat so important? David filled in the backstory with subtle clues about Madame Chapeau’s lost husband. Madame Chapeau is all alone in a city full of people until a simple act of kindness from a young girl connects her to the world once more.
We absolutely love the illustrations in the book, can you tell us a little about the illustrator David Roberts?
David, who is from London, was visiting the states and I flew in from Chicago to meet him. We were working on Rosie Revere, Engineer (our second book together) then. It’s actually rare for picture book authors and illustrators to meet each other, so it was a great treat connecting with him and telling each other our adventures. We hit it off immediately.
Personally, I believe that David is a genius. He creates seemingly simple illustrations but they are filled with extraordinary details found through extensive research. Nothing is ever left to chance.
This richness of detail is the greatest act of respect to the readers. David does this with illustrations and I try to do the same thing with language. I seek the perfect word whether it is simple or sophisticated. Short or long. I never change the language because kids are the audience. That would be insulting to them.
You studied biology and computer science at university not to mention experience in millinery. What made you change to writing children's books?
I never anticipated writing but found myself reading lots of picture books when my kids were little. After a while, I started getting ideas for stories and writing them down. It wasn’t long before I was hooked and ta-daaaaaaa! Here I am!
I wish I could say that I had real millinery experience, but I don’t. While I have made my share of hats for costumes—some rather elaborate-- and loved doing it, I am much better at wearing hats than making them! It is an art form that I love very much, however. In fact, I’ve always loved hats. I’m from a village of 300 people and I was known as “the kid in the hat.”
How would you compare the millinery process to writing books? Do you find it more or less challenging?
I am sure that calling myself a milliner would make Elsa Schiaparelli’s ghost take off her shoe hat and kick me with it. Still, I have found that every creative endeavor I have tried—from writing to playing the piano to making costumes to computer programming—has given me the same thrill and satisfaction. I think almost every activity can be a creative endeavor. It’s the same process of invention and creation.
What do you love most about millinery?
The limitless potential for wearable art!
What’s your favorite hat in the book and why?
My favorite hat is the weird cage-propeller hat in the café scene. I love it because it is Rosie Revere’s cheese hat. And, in fact, David drew me wearing it. I’m the lady with the donut and pen and David is eating cake next to me with a paint brush behind his ear! (The book is filled with other “Easter Eggs” including Susan and her daughter in matching hats on the cover.)
We have noticed that a lot of the designs are influenced by Phillip Treacy and Isabella Blow, do they hold a special significance?
David based Madame Chapeau upon Isabella Blow whom he had always admired. Most of the hats are based upon real hats (including some of David’s own creations). Most kids won’t recognize a Treacy or Schiaparelli or Jones creation, but the world becomes real to them because of these details.
Do you see there being a second Madame Chapeau Book?
I’ve never considered that. Hmmm. . .
What kind of feedback have you received from children (and adults for that matter) on the book?
The feedback has been wonderful. Kids and their adults love reading it together and the kids pour over the illustrations following the little girl. I especially love that even young kids get the backstory about Monsieur Chapeau. It’s very tender and lovely. Kids are smart and they respond to stories which respect that.
People have also responded to the diversity in the illustrations which I truly love as well.
» Find out more information about the author, illustrator and other books here.
» What details in this millinery studio from Madame Chapeau reflects your life in the workroom?
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