Barrington Stoke’s Little Gems books are well named. They are genuinely lovely books to read, to own and to delight in. The stories are always colourfully illustrated and attractively packaged in their distinctive format. This one, inspired by the early life of Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, is just the same and equally as precious.

First of all I have to confess to having never heard of Elisabeth. It turns out that she was a French artist, a portraitist, born in 1755 and surviving the French Revolution in spite of her association with Marie Antoinette. Katherine Woodfine’s story fictionalises the young Elisabeth’s time at boarding school. She is excited at the thought of school and pleased with her artist father’s going away gift of crayons and drawing paper. But she arrives to discover that everything is grey. Her crayons and colourful dresses are locked away and Elisabeth is sad. However, she makes friends and begins to draw without using colour and becomes happy again. But then her beloved Papa dies and when she returns to school after his funeral she feels that life will always be grey. She has reckoned without her classmates though.

Katherine tells a simple, gentle and endearing story of the power of grief, the warmth of friendship and the passion of art. And it is beautifully brought to life by Rebecca Cobb who is one of my favourite illustrators. I always wonder how an artist deals with illustrating the life of another artist. The temptation to mimic the artist’s style must be great. In this instance, of course, the book deals only with Elisabeth’s childhood and it is illustrated in Rebecca’s distinctive and pleasing style of bright colours and soft lines.

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