Biography takes a look at Child's fondness for felines

Biography takes a look at Child's fondness for felines

Many people love Julia Child — whether they remember her from her 1970s and '80s cooking shows, own a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" or grew to adore her through the popular contemporary book and movie, "Julie and Julia."

I have to admit the latter, especially Meryl Streep's portrayal of the lively chef intrigued me to pick up yet another book about Child's life titled "Julia's Cats: Julia Child's Life in the Company of Cats." This quirky biography of Child, starting with her as a 36-year-old newlywed in Paris, does include many photos and stories about Julia's pets — her cats — while also attempting to tell the story of her and husband Paul's life together. It includes Julia's rise to fame as an author and TV star, all the while keeping to the theme that through it all, Julia had cats as her companions.

To truly enjoy and understand this book, readers really have to be cat lovers, or at the very least, pet lovers. Otherwise, they might find themselves asking, "Who cares and how is this really that different than any other book that's been written about Julia Child?"

The photos definitely help. Child is shown in several photos with her beloved cats — as a young woman in Paris and as an elderly woman before her death (different cats, of course, as she outlived most of them).

So what kind of interesting facts will readers learn about Julia, her life and her relationship with cats? Well, in the beginning of Chapter 2, "And Kitty Makes Three: Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child," Paul and Julia learn that their cat, Minette, is a rare Spanish breed, "le tricolore," and soon after, Minette contracts pneumonia, which could be lethal.

The authors state: "Julia and Paul couldn't bear the thought of losing Minette, so they transformed the salon into a 'puss-pital' and nursed her day and night, forcing the kitty to inhale eucalyptus steam and swallow batches of large pills. ... They had all but given up hope when one miraculous day, without warning, their 'one-time-surely-dying pussycat' was up on all fours, looking 'lively as a grackle.' "

Toward the end of the book, when Paul was deceased and Julia was living in Montecito, Calif., she had a spunky little kitten named Minou, who liked to chase butterflies and pounce on the other residents in Child's apartment complex.

The authors state: "Startled cries and meows brought the housekeeper rushing to the rescue, with Julia trailing behind. Captivated by the familiar flutey voice, the neighbor happily accepted an apology — 'So sorry, dearie!' — and an invitation to meet in the dining room for breakfast with Julia, sans pussycat." These are the types of stories in this book, showing readers the Child her fans love, while also detailing her love for cats.

The authors, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson, happened to write this book because Child intrigued them. When they were reading about her and digging into her life, they discovered her love for pussycats. The book jacket states, "They knew her life's story wouldn't be complete unless it included her cherished feline companions."

"Julia's Cats" is definitely a niche book — for people who love Child or cats or both. It has great photos to complement the stories; but if you are looking for a mind-blowing read about her, you will need to look elsewhere. This is basically just a story you probably already know with a few cute cat anecdotes thrown in.

Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" ( Formerly of East Central Illinois, she lives in St. Louis with her family.