“Those early years in France were among the best of my life. They marked a crucial period of transformation in which I found my true calling, experienced an awakening of the senses, and had such fun that I hardly stopped moving long enough to catch my breath.” ~Julia Child (My Life in France, 2006).
When it comes to big appetites, Julia Child is hard to beat.
Beyond food, Julia craved knowledge, adventure, and travel, and she thrived on excellence. Large in stature with an outsized personality to match, Julia took a big, juicy bite out of life and wholeheartedly shared her largesse.
In this delectable new picture book biography, Julia’s grandnephew Alex Prud’homme highlights Julia’s early years in France, a time when she found love, discovered her true calling, and worked hard to achieve her goals of becoming a good cook and beloved teacher.
We’re first introduced to Julia McWilliams as a physically active, 6’2”, voraciously curious force of nature. Because her parents had a cook, she never saw the point of spending any time in the kitchen.
I was born hungry, not a cook.
She’d “always dreamed of having adventures and becoming a famous writer.” During WWII she volunteered as a clerk typist for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Ceylon. It was there that she met her future husband, Paul Child, a painter, photographer, and bon vivant who had lived in Paris and could speak fluent French.
They got on very well despite their differences: he was ten years older, shorter, and “much quieter.” But they bonded over a mutual love of “food, books, and travel.”
Paul encouraged Julia to try foods from around the world; she encouraged him to take an elephant ride. She still couldn’t cook, but she did create her first recipe – for shark repellent!
After the war, Julia and Paul moved back to America and got married. Determined to be a good wife, she took cooking lessons to impress Paul. Her first meal, cow brains simmered in red wine, was a disaster because she’d rushed through the recipe. This only made her more determined than ever to become a better cook.
A couple of years later, they traveled to France for Paul’s new job at the U.S. Embassy. En route to Paris, they stopped at La Couronne in Rouen for lunch. Not just any lunch, of course, but the famous sole meunière meal that would prove life changing.
Julia inhaled the wonderful aroma of fish cooked in butter. Then she took a bite of the sole, experienced ‘a magnificent burst of flavor,’ and closed her eyes. She had never tasted anything so fresh and delicious. She tried to chew slowly, to savor every morsel, but the lunch was so good that she gobbled it down.
While Paul was at work, Julia feasted on all the delectables Paris had to offer – pastries, soups, seafood, cheeses, veggies and fresh fruits (how could anyone resist “plump strawberries swimming in pools of whipped cream”?).
At night she read French cookbooks and dreamed of making some of the delicacies she’d sampled or read about. Her own cooking skills were still sorely lacking. There was so much to learn!
So, a year later, at age 37, Julia enrolled at the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, where she was the only female student. Despite a lukewarm welcome, Julia became the hardest working, most eager student in the class.
From Chef Bugnard, she learned simple dishes like scrambled eggs and more complicated ones like boeuf bourguinon. She practiced a variety of techniques – dicing, folding, marinating, poaching, puréeing and sautéing.
Her favorite desserts were tarte Tatin (a caramelized apple tart) and gâteau reine de Saba (a chocolate and almond cake).
Chef Bugnard also taught her the value of taking “time and care” to get to know the vendors at the outdoor markets. This was the best way of obtaining the “tastiest cut of meat, the freshest loaf of bread, or the gooiest piece of cheese.”
Easy for Julia, since she loved people, could talk to anyone, and was a natural charmer. She really fell in love with Paris – not only its people, but its civilized atmosphere and the “generous pace of life.”
With two French friends, Julia opened a cooking school – L’École des Trois Gourmandes – where she passed on to her students all the valuable lessons she’d learned from Chef Bugnard. These became the hallmarks of her future career as a cookbook author and television cooking show star.
To this day, Julia’s teachings continue to inform and inspire home cooks everywhere. From this culinary icon, we’ve learned to use the freshest ingredients and the best tools. Cooking shouldn’t be a sprint; instead of rushing, a careful, measured approach will yield better results. Julia herself was fearless and encouraged us to take risks and never apologize for mistakes. Best of all, she encouraged cooks to take joy in the process and to have fun!
When Julia died in her sleep in August 2004, Alex had been working with her on her autobiography, My Life in France. He went on to finish the book and it was published in 2006.
Sarah Green’s vibrant digital illustrations depict Julia in all her statuesque, square-jawed, exuberant, industrious glory. Julia’s energy and joie-de-vivre are palpable, and there are mouthwatering drawings of food in almost every spread. Lobster! Lemon Tarts! Chocolate cake! Crusty baguettes! Mmmmmm. It is hard not to lick the pages. 🙂
My favorite illustration just might be the one of Julia asleep next to Paul, dreaming of concocting a gourmet meal, while ingredients like carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, lemons, and butter drift around the room. I actually like all the pictures of Julia and Paul together because you can sense how crazy they are about each other.
In Born Hungry, Prud’homme effectively demonstrates Julia’s “learn by doing” philosophy, her unabashed love of food, and her fervent desire to share that love with the world. His personal connection to Julia makes for an engaging text that’s peppered with zesty quotes from the Queen of Cuisine.
Kids will enjoy learning about the first TV celebrity chef, and be inspired by someone who followed her passion, achieving success through lots of hard work and determination. Budding chefs and foodies of all ages will, of course, eat this one up.
Though the story itself ends as Julia launches her professional career with her cooking school, Prud’homme shares more about her subsequent accomplishments in his Author’s Note. This includes writing and publishing her tour-de-force, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, appearing as “The French Chef” on PBS, transitioning to other programming that featured recipes from around the world, writing even more books, and winning all kinds of awards.
More backmatter features comprehensive lists of Julia’s books and TV shows, as well as podcasts, websites, exhibits, and a bibliography for further study.
To top everything off, there’s a recipe for Scrambled Eggs (Oeufs Brouillés), presented in Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking two-column format.
Since I’ve been missing Joooolia’s voice – cheery, chirping, hooting and emphatic, whether she’s reading ingredients aloud or massaging raw chickens (just before taking a swig of wine to fortify herself), Born Hungry was a most welcome gustatory pleasure. Don’t miss it!
BORN HUNGRY: Julia Child Becomes “The French Chef”
written by Alex Prud’homme
illustrated by Sarah Green
published by Calkins Creek/Astra BFYR, February 2022
Picture Book Biography for ages 5-9, 40 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note, Lists of Books, TV Shows, Podcasts, Websites, Exhibits, Bibliography, and Recipe for Scrambled Eggs
**Starred Review** from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
***Click here for the Born Hungry Discussion Guide
Enjoy this little peek inside the book:
♥️ For more Alphabet Soup posts about Julia ( + a couple of recipes), click here.
🇫🇷 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 🍓
The publisher is generously offering a brand new copy of Born Hungry for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Tuesday, March 29, 2022. You can also enter by sending an email with JULIA in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!
🍷 🍷 BON APPÉTIT! 🇫🇷 🇫🇷
“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” ~ JC
“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken.” JC
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**Interior spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2022 Alex Prud’homme, illustrations © 2022 Sarah Green, published by Calkins Creek/Astra BFYR. All rights reserved.
***Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. Alll rights reserved.