Matthews makes her children's book debut with panache with this portrait of the famously avant-garde Coco Chanel. "At a time when France was the center of all that was wealthy, grandiose, and fashionable, Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel was born poor and skinny. Coco was always different," the text begins. Colorful snippets about her 19th-century girlhood will be the most likely to captivate youngsters: Coco preferred to play alone, pretending to act like the grand ladies in stylish shops. Sent at the age of 12 to live in an orphanage after her mother died, she learned to sew and made lovely rag dolls. She could not afford to dress like "the corseted ladies of high society," so instead blazed her own unique fashion trail. She designed practical, simple (uncorseted!) clothes while working in a tailor shop, and later sold her dresses from a Paris boutique, financed by her wealthy British suitor. Matthews reveals how Chanel's designs took off through their sheer practicality at the onset of WWI, and how the designer's rebelliousness reached beyond her fashions. The woman demanded to be treated as an equal by her wealthy clients, challenging the established social order: "Coco offered women not only freedom from corsets, but freedom from social constraints as well." Thus, Matthews offers a snapshot of European history through one extraordinary woman's life. (The author saves some of the juiciest tidbits—of special interest to fashion buffs—for a concluding timeline.) Airy, at times wry pen-and-ink and watercolor wash drawings capture the spunk—and sans doutethe style—of this independent-minded, influential fashion maven. Ages 5-9. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
This picture book aimed at elementary students tells the story of Coco Chanel, the famous French couturier of the first half of the twentieth century. Born into a struggling family, her mother died when she was twelve years old and, eventually, Coco was sent to live in an orphanage. Here she learned to sew, as well as developed a habit of daydreaming of greater things. More of a loner than a joiner, Coco began developing her dreams into a driving ambition which lead her to turn her sewing skills into a fashion empire. The book lauds her uniqueness and drive while downplaying the liaisons with wealthy sometimes married men which helped her realize her ambitions. The time line included at the end of the book mentions her living in Switzerland following World War II but does not include the fact that she was exiled from France as a German collaborator. Celebrating the uniqueness of famous men and women is a good thing, but being honest about their whole lives is an important lesson for young people, too. The charming illustrations are fine representations of the times.
School Library Journal
A celebration of the life of a major fashion designer and independent spirit. Chanel was born poor, was scorned, and ultimately succeeded because of her own talents. "Coco couldn't afford to dress like the corseted ladies of high society and she was never going to be shapely. There was no point in trying to be like them. Instead, she tried to be different." Like Kathryn Lasky's Vision of Beauty (Candlewick, 2000), this imaginative tale should be shared with every child who thinks Jane O'Connor's Fancy Nancy (HarperCollins, 2005) is the epitome of high fashion. The story is accompanied, appropriately, by elegant pen-and-ink and watercolor cartoons that capture her struggles as a young woman, as well as her innate sense of style. Viva, Coco.
Kathleen WhalinCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
With an economy of storyline and a strong sense of style, Matthews distills the contradictory life of Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel into a neat and fashionable package. Her pen-and-ink drawings have energy and panache, and she makes limpidly clear just how revolutionary Chanel was. She brought comfortable clothing for women into a world full of Edwardian corsets; she boldly stole from menswear; and she never married. Her difficult early life is not glossed over but is simplified-mother dies, orphanage, convent school, her own shop underwritten by the one (British, wealthy) boyfriend mentioned. Young readers will love the sweep and detail of the images, the vividness of the characters' expressions and the humor on almost every page. The endpapers are covered with quotations from Chanel: "Luxury must be comfortable; otherwise it is not luxury." (timeline, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)