Author Anne Michaels on Her New Book

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I was having tea, in a way, with the whimsical, fetching Miss Petifour, protagonist of The Adventures of Miss Petitfour, a delightful new children’s book.

But at the same time I was having a rather serious and wide-ranging conversation with its author, Toronto poet and writer Anne Michaels, who also wrote the award-winning best-seller, Fugitive Pieces.

The playful language of Miss Petitfour is as poetic as the powerful language of Fugitive Pieces.

But unlike Fugitive Pieces, which is a wrenching novel about a boy who survives the Holocaust and becomes an adult haunted by his experience, Miss Petitfour is about a gentle, enchanted free spirit. She flies through the air with a magic tablecloth, tends to her imaginatively named posse of cats and always, but always, ends an adventure with a tea party.

“I wanted to do a children’s book for a long time,” says the 57-year old author. “I love children’s literature.”

She’s a great fan of the classics, affectionately recalling from her childhood the books of Edward Eager and the Gone-Away series of Elizabeth Enright.

She is not a fan of much of today’s fiction for children.

“A lot of the fiction in the chapter books now is very dark,” she says. “I wanted to write what one would call an old-fashioned book: joyful, a world full of pleasure, intelligent word play, sophisticated language.”

There’s already a massive dose of bad news in children’s daily lives, with schools addressing current events, she says. And then “they go to the fiction shelves and in so many books the parents are dead by the first paragraph.”

Children, she suggests, “have time to learn how dark the world is and it takes very little time for that to encroach on consciousness.

“We imagine that children want to grow up quick but my feeling is that’s not so. The pleasure of those picture books, reading together, it’s a way of not letting go of things that give them pleasure.”

It is, she insists, “a great advantage to have stored up in you stores of joy.”

And reading beautiful books, she suggests, is a fine way to do just that.

With her characteristic poetic sensibility, she talks about “falling into an afternoon of reading” — and the childhood wonder of being read aloud to.

Knowing that Miss Petitfour will provide just that, she says, about writing her first book for children, “It’s a beautiful thing to make something that allows parents and children to be together in that way.”

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