First, let me say that both of my daughters read Meet Marie-Grace and Meet Cécile because they’re huge American Girl fans. When they found out that they had the chance to read the stories of a new girls, they fought over who got which book first. And, as I figured, they both loved them. Emily (11 years old) thought the history was really interesting and I liked the fact that it was a way to have a conversation about freedoms that people had, as well as changes that came to this country post Civil War. Ellie (9 years old), on the other hand, was all about Mardi Gras. When is it? Do they still have costume balls? Can we go?
As for the books themselves, I cruised through them, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of New Orleans as they came to life with the story of Marie-Grace. Having visited New Orleans, the flavor that the stories provide gives a very authentic flair to the story.
Marie-Grace had left New Orleans when she was four, after the deaths of her mother and younger brother. After several years of traveling across the northeast, from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, Marie-Grace and her father return to New Orleans, a bustling city filled with more action than she’s ever seen. On her first day back she is reintroduced to her Uncle Luc, meets Lavinia Halsworth, a girl who is sure she has no need for the likes of a non-society girl like Marie-Grace, well known opera star, Mademoiselle Océane, and her student, Cécile.
Cécile is a wealthy free girl of color who quickly becomes one of Marie-Grace’s closest friends in New Orleans. Cécile’s father is a well know stone mason, who has works decorating many of the most beautiful building in the city, as well as the very grand markers in the graves found throughout the city. Cécile’s older brother is in France where his is learning his father’s craft with European masters and Cécile’s entire family can’t wait for his return.
The story carries readers through dinners filled with shrimp gumbo and pecan pie, trips to the French Market for dried peppers and spices and gives readers an inside look at New Orleans in the 1850’s, before the onset of the Civil War. The darker side of New Orleans, with tenement diseases and the difficulties faced by slaves as well as free people of color are also touched upon throughout the story in a manner that allows readers to see how truly hard life was, but at a level that is appropriate for younger readers.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans was, and still is, the biggest, most glorious event to take over the city, filling it with music, parades and balls. When Marie-Grace and Cécile are invited to separate balls on the same night, they share an adventure they won’t ever forget, dancing the night away.
In the typical vain of the American Girl books, the main characters have lives that are filled with ups and downs, but they strive to find the best in people and stay positive throughout their many adventures. The unique concept of shared sections for each book is new to the American Girl books. Although the books share characters and story lines, each story itself is unique enough that you wouldn’t have to read both books to understand the story lines, as they work well on their own. However, they really do work so well together that you get a deeper understanding of the characters and the stories through the separate perspectives of each girl.
The ends of Meet Marie-Grace and Meet Cécile introduce readers to New Orleans with beautiful illustrations and a very solid history of what life was truly like. Economy, trade, society, racial tensions and Mardi Gras are all explained with just enough details to give readers a true flavor of New Orleans. The books close with a French glossary and pronunciation key, perfect touches for a trés bon livre (very good book)!
GIVEAWAY: One (1) That’s IT Mommy reader will receive an American Girl Cécile and Marie-Grace Boxed Set (pictured below)
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*This giveaway will run through midnight on September 28, 2011 (PST). Winner will be chosen using Random.org from all valid entries and notified via email. Winner will have 48 hours to contact us before another winner is chosen. Giveaway is open to U.S. (18+) residents only.
* We did not receive monetary compensation for this review. That’s IT Mommy received the mentioned books from American Girl free of charge to facilitate this review. Giveaway item will be provided by sponsor. Sponsor has the right to refuse filling prize for duplicate winners from other blogs. This will in no way sway our opinion of the product or service. The review is in our own words and is our opinion. Your results and opinions may differ.