The historic Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company tells how an American woman transformed it into a gathering place for legendary writers and avid readers.
Narrating in the first person, the shop tells readers how, in a time long ago, Sylvia Beach, “An American free spirit as fresh as the spring. / A lover of life—and poetry too— / who brought dreams to Paris and made them come true,” packs the small building with books “from ceiling to floor” and placed old writers’ portraits on the walls. Sylvia sits reading, surrounded by bright images from books, her “treasures.” Her love of books and all they can do flows, matching the enthusiasm from visitors who come to the bookshop and stay “long into the nights.” These esteemed guests, nicknamed in the text but introduced in the backmatter, include Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Janet Flanner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Simone de Beauvoir, and Man Ray. While one person of color (Josephine Baker) is discussed by the visitors and a few people of darker skin tones appear in the bookshop, none of them are introduced by name. The art is the highlight of this volume; Wu turns a text about books and writers into a veritable party on the page, with daytime and imaginary scenes in bright pastels and night scenes in blue tones highlighted with warm yellows representing the bookshop’s cozy atmosphere. The rhyming text is a bit awkward in the opening but ultimately carries the story well. The ending hammers home the value of books. Both opening and closing seem off-key in a historical picture book, but that should not deter readers.
Attractive illustrations enliven an offbeat but interesting story. (historical, biographical notes) (Picture book. 4-8)