When Alice Babette wakes up on her birthday, she’s certain “it will be a day filled with surprises.”
Unfortunately, the first is that her best friend, Gertrude, with whom she lives, doesn’t wish her a happy birthday. It improves from there, as Alice wanders through Paris, riding a merry-go-round and watching a puppet show in the Luxembourg Gardens. Meanwhile, readers see that Gertrude is not as hardhearted as she seemed: she spends the day marketing for and preparing a grand birthday dinner for her friend and composing a birthday poem. Alas, Alice is the cook in this family, and all of Gertrude’s good intentions can’t turn her into one, particularly when the muse beckons. Kulling’s affectionate look at one fictional day in Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein’s life together is as rambling as her subjects’ separate peregrinations. Stein’s experimental writing is alluded to (only Alice “seem[s] to understand or appreciate her friend’s work”); the story’s focus is on the loving, complementary relationship between the two women—indeed, the pair feels like many a children’s-literature duo: Mouse and Mole, Frog and Toad, and George and Martha come to mind. Leng’s delicate watercolors depict two middle-aged white women in frumpy skirts, Gertrude stockier than Alice and with close-cropped hair. Her images of Paris, the women’s old-fashioned kitchen, and their poodle, Basket, charm.
A rose is a rose, and loving friendship is loving friendship, as this sweet celebration makes clear. (Picture book. 5-8)