December 21, 2006


Anatole and Anatole and the Cat. By Eve Titus. Pictures by Paul Galdone. Knopf. $14.95 each.

     The most endearing Gallic rodent character for children in the 1950s – and isn’t that a mouthful? – was an honest and honorable mouse named Anatole, the star of two books that were published in 1956 and 1957 and have now been reissued in marvelous new editions with the original superb Paul Galdone pictures (Galdone won Caldecott Honor awards for both books).  The beret-wearing Anatole is a family mouse and, above all, a mouse of honor, who learns early in the first book that human beings resent him and his kind for taking bits of their food to feed mouse families.

     Anatole is horrified at being thought less than honorable – the fact that mice always have lived this way means nothing to him – and he is determined to find an upstanding way to take care of his family, which includes wife Doucette and children Paul, Paulette, Claude, Claudette, Georges and Georgette (how charming is that?).  Anatole comes up with an extremely clever way to earn his daily bread – or, more precisely, his daily cheese.  He types a few dozen signs with words such as “extra-‘specially good,” “good” and “not so good” on them, sticks a long pin through each sign, and carries them one night to a cheese factory whose business is not doing too well.

     Anatole’s super-sharp mouse nose and super-tuned taste buds tell him exactly what is good or bad about every cheese, and he leaves his signs all over the place, including suggestions for improvements of subpar products.  The head of the factory, M’sieu Duval, sees the signs, tastes the cheeses himself, and discovers that the mysterious Anatole – who has put his name on each sign – is 100% right about everything.  M’sieu Duval changes the recipes of his cheeses, and “soon business began to BOOM!  The people of France demanded Duval cheese or no cheese at all!”  But M’sieu Duval cannot find out who Anatole is: “the secret remained a secret,” even after the grateful M’sieu Duval names Anatole “First Vice-President in Charge of Cheese-Tasting.”

     This is an extraordinarily clever story, told with a great deal of wit by Eve Titus – and Anatole and the Cat is every bit as good.  It takes place later, as Anatole is performing his vice-presidential duties.  Anatole – helped by his friend, Gaston – is hard at his gourmet work one night when he hears the sounds of a cat in the factory.  Terrified, he makes a series of hilarious mistakes in his cheese labels and suggestions.  Later, Anatole leaves M’sieu Duval a neatly typed interoffice memo saying that the cat’s presence so disturbs him that he cannot do his job.  M’sieu Duval leaves a note in return, apologizing for his family pet being left accidentally in the factory.  And so all should be well – but non, the cat turns up in the factory again, and Anatole realizes he must take action.  This turns out to involve catnip, a makeshift cage and a collar with a bell, and it is a simply wonderful solution to the inventive mouse’s problem, earning him additional praise from his grateful employer.  The Anatole books are so packed with offbeat charm that they seem every bit as fresh today as they were 50 years ago.  It is wonderful that a new generation of children will now have the chance to meet this most extraordinary mouse.

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