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Christel Desmoinaux Biography (1967-) - Sidelights

hen surprise review children

Although she has written and illustrated numerous children's book in her native France, until recently Christel Desmoinaux was little known in the United States. This changed with the publication of English translations of two of Desmoinaux's self-illustrated books, Mrs. Hen's Big Surprise (originally published as L'Oeuf de Madame Poule) and Hallo-What? (originally published as Dis-moi qu'est-ce que c'est Halloween?), the story of a little French girl who is not familiar with the American holiday of Halloween.

Mrs. Hen's Big Surprise is about the title fowl, who is despondent because she has no chicks of her own. So when she finds a huge, spotted egg in her garden, she carts it into her house and sits on it, ignoring the abuse heaped on her by her skeptical barnyard neighbors. Finally, when the egg fails to hatch, Mrs. Hen moves it back into the garden, where it rolls away and cracks open to reveal a pink-and-blue dinosaur. The story is similar to many other children's books about mixed animal families, some reviewers noted, but they also commented favorably on Desmoinaux's cheerful illustrations. The "whimsical" sketches "give the book a certain quirky charm," remarked Lisa Dennis in School Library Journal, and Booklist's Hazel Rochman thought that the "richly colored cartoon illustrations" make Mrs. Hen's environment look like "a playground where anything can happen."

Desmoinaux once told SATA: "As far as I remember, I've always enjoyed drawing. At the age of eight or nine, I used to spend hours putting the stories I imagined on paper, sitting at the little table in the living room, while my parents were watching television. Like books, drawing always provided a good way to enter a secret world of my own where all that I wanted could happen to my heroes, most of them beautiful princesses. By the age of eleven, I knew I would prefer working in an artistic profession if I had the chance, which, with the help and support of my parents, luckily occurred.

"Illustrating for children is, of course, a link with my own childhood. There are a few pictures [from my childhood reading] I remember vividly (one from Blue-beard, for example), and I like to think that some of my pictures will make lasting impressions on the children who are now reading my books.

"I am interested in a lot of things in addition to illustration. I enjoy traveling to other countries; I have a great interest in cinema; and I like reading—in English, if possible, to stay in practice. I share my life with an English man, which also helps. . . . Of course, I love Paris, which is, culturally speaking, a place where you always have an infinity of choices when you want to go out."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Mrs. Hen's Big Surprise, p. 1468; September 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Hallo-What?, p. 134.

Publishers Weekly, August 4, 2003, review of Hallo-What?, p. 78.

School Library Journal, April, 2000, Lisa Dennis, review of Mrs. Hen's Big Surprise, p. 103.

Sesame Street, June, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Mrs. Hen's Big Surprise, p. 2S38.

ONLINE

Christel Desmoinaux Home Page, http://desmoino.free.fr/ (November 20, 2003).*

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