Almost 50 years before Pixar introduced us to a tiny mouse who wanted to cook in Ratatouille, Eve Titus introduced the world to another culinary mouse named Anatole. Anatole, like his animated cousin lives in Paris and becomes unhappy with the idea of stealing food. The stories are similar which is not surprising. Eve Titus’ story of a mouse who wants to give back has stood the test of time and has just returned to print for its fiftieth anniversary edition.
The story starts with Anatole heading out for his nightly rounds of food stealing with his friend. The two go out every evening together to the take food from the houses of the people. One night Anatole overhears people talking about how terrible it the stealing is. He decides that he doesn’t want to steal food ever again. So the next night, Anatole leaves his friend behind and instead sneaks to a cheese factory in the city. He samples each of the cheeses and then heads home with an idea. He writes up little cards and then returns to the factory that night. He samples the cheeses and offers suggestions for how to improve them. The factory take his suggestions seriously and suddenly their sales start going up rapidly. The factory owner tries hard to meet Anatole to thank him for the new success. When Anatole refuses to meet them he gives the mouse a job as official taster with the perk of getting to bring home as much cheese as he wants. And Anatole never has to steal cheese again.
The story is such a quiet endearing little tale that I’m not surprised that it has stood the test of time. The character of Anatole, with his little beret and bicycle, is charming and grown-up in a way that is unusual as a children’s story. It seems such a grown-up story and theme. Titus is clearly not talking down to her audience. She uses language that is more adult than what we often see in children’s books. One of my favorite exchanges between Anatole and his friend Gaston illustrates this well. “It is horrible to feel scorned and unwanted! Where is my self-respect? My pride? My honor?” Gaston shrugged his shoulders indifferently. “Resign yourself, Anatole. Cest la vie!” Using this more advanced language, Titus creates characters that are intelligent and likable. Paul Galdrone, the illustrator, creates wonderful scenes really bringing the little mouse and his Paris to life. The illustrations are mix of black and white drawings, watercolor images, and full paint washes. The colors are deep and subdued (often blues) making this story sweet and quiet. In fact, this had to be one of the most quiet, thoughtful, and intelligent children’s stories I’ve read in a long time.