On Stage: Cecile's Gift (American Girl) by Denise Louise Patrick
"Mathilde," Cecile asked, "how did you become so good at cooking?"
Mathilde smiled so that her eyes crinkled at the corners. "Grand-mere said I had a gift for cooking."
"A gift?" Cecile felt puzzled. "but a gift is--"
""--not always what you think. It can be something that comes natural to a person. That doesn't mean I always get things right at first, but I like to practice and learn. Cooking is easy for me. It's my gift."
Cecile slowly pushed the nutmeg back and forth against the grater. What was it Marie-Grace had said about singing? She enjoyed it because it was easy... or it was easy because she enjoyed it?
"I want to make people happy," Cecile said. "That's why I want to get my poem right."
"Everything is better when you put love inside it, cherie," said the cook.
It is the early fall of 1853 in New Orleans, and the yellow fever epidemic which has cost 10,000 lives in the city is waning with the cooler weather, but the city is struggling to take care of the widows and orphans left behind. Cecile Rey and her white friend Marie-Grace volunteer in the two orphanages that care for white and African-American children, and even though Cecile's status as a member of a well-to-do gens de colour libre family has protected her from material hardship during the epidemic, her family's maid Ellen has died and her brother Armand has just begun to recover.
Then, as Cecile and Marie-Grace are about to enter one of the orphanages, a young man collapses with fever on the street in front, and Cecile discovers his little sister, Perrine, cowering in a a doorway nearby. Talking softly to the frightened girl, Cecile finally learns that the two are also without parents and manages to take Perrine to the sisters at the Children of Mercy home, but her heart aches for her and the other children and for the nuns who are struggling to find the means to care for so many homeless children. She feels that somehow she herself should do more.
Then the girls learn that the city is planning a citywide benefit in Jackson Square, La Celebration, to raise money for the needy left behind by the yellow fever. Marie-Grace is going to sing with her Aunt Oceane from one of the many performance stages, and Cecile feels that she must also help by volunteering to recite a heroic poem, one that she hopes will inspire the orphan children. Working harder than she ever has, she memorizes a long, grand poem, but when she performs it for little Perrine, she does not get the response she hopes for.
Perrine was looking out the window, not at Cecile. "I...I didn't understand it," she murmured.
Cecile heart sinks. Suddenly she sees that if she wants to reach grieving children like Perrine, she is going to have to write a poem herself, one whose simple words will lead the children into facing the future. Cecile knows what she must do. But does she really have the gift for writing such words and then performing them before such a large audience?
In this latest book in her new American Girls series, Denise Patrick's Cecile's Gift (American Girl) (American Girls Collection) (American Girl, 2011), Cecile has grown, no longer the sheltered daughter of an illustrious and artistic Creole family in nineteenth century New Orleans. Yellow fever has changed the city forever, and the diverse populations--"Americans" from outside the area, Creoles, Black slaves, old Spanish and French families, and German populations--come together for a time to take care of their own. What they have seen during the epidemic, so many deaths, so much grief and disintegration of families, has matured both Cecile and her "American" friend Marie-Claire and deepened their friendship as well. As is true for all the books in this notable series, young readers are given a look back into a unique period and place in American history to see how other girls have faced the challenges of their own time.
Along with full-color illustrations which show the dress and customs of the time, plenty of French expressions give the book the flavor of the nineteenth-century Crescent City, bolstered by a complete glossary of terms and pronunciation, and a pronunciation guide to names is also appended. The series' customary illustrated historical notes are also included, titled "Looking Back: Recovering from Disaster, 1853," giving modern children a picture of how Americans have dealt with natural disasters in the past as we do today. A worthy addition to a uniquely notable series.
Earlier books in this New Orleans series include Meet Cecile (American Girl) (American Girls Collection), and Troubles for Cecile (American Girl) (American Girls Collection) and the companion books Meet Marie-Grace (American Girl) (American Girls Collection), Marie-Grace and the Orphans (American Girl) (American Girls Collection), and and Marie-Grace Makes a Difference (American Girl) (American Girls Collection).