When Yannick learns that he is to stay with his Aunt Mathilde in the South of France, he cannot believe his luck. If the paintings of his mother’s beloved Cezanne are to be believed, surely Provence is paradise itself. So begins an idyllic month for the young boy: roaming the gentle hills and rolling valleys of Aix-en-Provence; daydreaming about his beautiful cousin Amandine; helping in his aunt and uncle's bustling village inn; feeling that he has come to the most wonderful place in the world. Then the idyll is spoilt when an important local comes for dinner and Yannick accidentally destroys a precious drawing the man leaves behind. Yannick is devastated by what he has done, and resolves to put things right. But in so doing he makes a surprising discovery…
In a story first published in 2006, Morpurgo (War Horse) takes advantage of the ever-popular setting and culture of Provence. Ten-year-old Yannick is sent from Paris to his uncle's inn in the south of France so his mother can convalesce. He promptly falls for his beautiful but icy older cousin, Amandine, and starts helping out at the inn's restaurant, where one of the regulars, "the most famous painter in the world," often leaves an appreciative sketch on a paper tablecloth. When Yannick throws one into the fire, Amandine is livid. Adult readers will recognize Picasso's iconic striped jersey and bald head, but Yannick does not. His mother had told him about the immortal C zanne and his relationship with Provence, and the boy naturally assumes the artist in the restaurant is he. Only the most cultivated readers will understand Yannick's charming mistake without some priming. Morpurgo's habit of telling rather than showing ("She did not mince her words") and the story's thin characterizations keep this from top-drawer status, but fans, foodies, and Francophiles will be beguiled. Place's relaxed pencil and watercolor paintings, meanwhile, certainly invoke the palette of C zanne's Provence. Ages 7 10.