Electra and the Charlotte Russe

The Smith Family Bookstore in Eugene is overwhelming, although a much smaller version of Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. The children book section on the second floor is challenging to negotiate your way through, as irregular towers of used books can be easily knocked over. I managed to bump against a short stack and watched helplessly as they toppled over and slid across the narrow aisle like a deck of slick playing cards into the alcove that held semi-orderly collections of books that it made onto shelves.

In the midst of half-a-gazillion children’s books, Electra and the Charlotte Russe reached out to me through the illustrated eyes of a young girl, her hair neatly tied back with a soft white bow and smiling lips, offering me a box of whipped cream-topped pastries. The title and the glossy, beautifully illustrated cover convinced me that it was going to be a sweet story. And indeed it is.

The author Corinne Demas tells a story about her mother, whose real name is Electra, when she was a young girl growing up in a Greek-American family who lived in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in the Bronx during the 1920’s. This is a story that has been retold in her family time and time again – it was time for Corinne to publish her mother’s story for others to enjoy (published by Boyd Mills Press in 1997). When you visit her website, you will see a photo of Corinne’s grandmother as a beautiful young woman.

The award-winning illustrator Michael Garland has given the story a delightful, visual nostalgia that draws us into the era, the family’s life, their friends and the humorous mishaps of a well-intended child. I read Electra and the Charlotte Russe aloud to my husband, and he also found the artwork and the story to be charming and well-crafted. I look forward to reading the story of young Electra, her mama’s special tea party and what happened to the box of pastries from Zimmerman’s bakery to my own daughter and granddaughter. A heartwarming story, which combines both personal history and storytelling for the enjoyment of both young and adult readers alike.

Electra and the Charlotte Russe encourages me to think further about the stories my own mother has to share about her childhood growing up with Norwegian grandparents that would make wonderful books for children.