But, really, I’ll let these two greats do it for me:
I just had to cheat a little – isn’t this a marvelous video?
The Story of Diva and Flea is one of those early chapter books that is kinda perfect (this should come as no surprise. It’s Mo Willems, after all). There are a few (fabulous) pictures, plenty of white space, and a story that is both engaging — but not too complex. Just right for readers who are starting to transition from picture books into longer texts.
Diva and Flea are quite a pair. Their relationship reminds me a little bit of Lady and the Tramp, without the romance. Diva is a pampered French pup, always donning a bow and Flea is an alley cat without an established home. Their unlikely friendship is gentle, companionable, and amusing.
That it is set in Paris? As Mo Willems says in the video, Paris is the setting, but it isn’t the focus. “Please don’t notice it, just enjoy the romp.” I noticed the setting, though. Even young readers who don’t really understand what, exactly, it means to wander the streets of Paris will pick up on a feeling, a sense that this is a city that is someplace special.
My young students often hear me encouraging them to use one of their strategies for finding their next Good Book. The “author strategy” asks them to remember a really wonderful book they read and liked and see if that author has written anything else? Enter Mo Willems.
I’m delighted he tried his hand so successfully with a chapter book, and I hope there are many more to come. Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggy and Pigeon book lovers can grow into other books of his, now.
And while Willems may not want us to even notice that Diva and Flea live in Paris, I think the mark of a great author-illustrator collaboration, such as this one, is that we do notice such details. The overlay of setting is central to this story, after all, but probably in the very way they intended. It is there. Quiet and unobtrusive. Part of things. Never bright and shining and in your face, but a particular and extraordinary presence that helps make the story come alive.
Anyone who has ever drifted through the streets of Paris knows there is no place else quite like it. And nothing can change that.
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