The Chestnut Roaster Blog Tour

As part of the blog tour, I am thrilled to welcome the opportunity to highlight the brilliance of the illustrator in a guest post from author Eve McDonnell. Scroll down for her post, some of the illustrations and then my review.

Be sure to check out the previous stops on this tour!

The Chestnut Roaster: Meet the Illustrator – Ewa Beniak-Haremska

The story of The Chestnut Roaster is told not only through words but through nine stunning double-spread illustrations by Ewa Beniak-Haremska. 

Ewa is a Polish artist living in Warsaw. Her works have been exhibited in galleries in Poland and abroad, mainly in Rome, where she studied drawing and painting. She has illustrated several dozen books for children and is the recipient of many significant awards and distinctions. While illustrating books she travels. She gets to know the mind and soul of the writer which in turn enriches her world view. In recent years, she usually chooses drawing, which allows her to respond intuitively and is limited to simple tools. Her work is very lyrical and has a strong touch of magical realism. She likes silence and precise, demanding craft work. She looks at the world from afar.

In The Chestnut Roaster, Ewa’s dramatic and detailed style leaves ample room for interpretation while sweeping you along with Piaf’s journey through the overground and underground of Paris. Let’s take a closer look at some of her illustrations…

Piaf and her Paris: It is Paris 1888, the time of Belle Époque – a period of optimism and prosperity. The great Exposition Universelle is planned for the following year, and the new and rising Eiffel Tower will mark the entrance to the fair. Nestled amongst all that bustle, brilliance and beauty, is Piaf – a girl who cannot forget, even if she wanted to. Her name means ‘little sparrow’, and she was named this because she was as small as a bird when she was born.
Piaf on her Corner at Rue du Dragon: On her corner, where the quiet Rue du Dragon meets the bustling Boulevard Saint-Germain, petite Piaf stands at her chestnut roaster. A stranger arrives – can you spot him? Thankfully, Madame Legrand is nearby at Pufont’s Button Bijouterie. As the chestnut burns and fog swirls thick as vanilla cream, a black cat signals a warning of what is to come
From the Sinkhole to the Asylum at Hôtel-Dieu: From terrifying sinkholes beneath Rue du Dragon, to Luc’s depressing room in Hôtel-Dieu’s asylum. Which is worse, do you think? Piaf is haunted by images of twenty missing children, their pictures having appeared on Le Petit Parisien newspaper over the course of the past year. How many children can you see? Is Véronique – the girl with the crooked nose – there too?
A Miracle at Notre-Dame? Piaf and Luc are on the run! Posters declaring the twins Wanted are plastered to every surface and a carnival of people gather at the great cathedral of Notre-Dame. A miracle! the crowd roars. At first, Piaf wonders if the ugly stone gargoyles – each creature so petite, yet so fierce – and rows of statues are moving. If you stare long enough, perhaps they will.

My Review:

Part psychological mystery, part middle grade adventure, this story will have you hooked within a couple of pages.

Piaf is a very small chestnut roaster on the streets of Paris. She is grubby, true and loyal. On the day we meet her, she is approached by a creepy man, who she believes to be the child-snatcher. Twenty children have been taken and she was next on the list. After an explosive situation, he goes to leave, but the child chained to him hands her a chestnut. Piaf is horrified that the child was chained to him, believing her to be snatched as well.

Piaf lives with her Maman, her Papa has died and her twin, Luc is in an asylum after losing his memory a year ago. However, those around Piaf believe his memory to have been lost only 9 days ago, leaving a one year gap in their knowledge. Every time Luc wakes up, he is given a list of 20 things to know about himself and his family. When Piaf next visits Luc, some secrets are revealed and the twins must escape for their lives.

Their adventure begins in the asylum and will lead them all across Paris and in her twin city, underground. They now have a map and a plan but they need more time!

A story with brilliant descriptions for the senses, from the fog the city wakes to each morning, the cherry berlingots scent that fills the gaps in time and to the intense chase Piaf must do down slime filled tunnels, with gut-wrenching water and tormented bones filling her nostrils and crunching underfoot.

Luc, Piaf and new friend Bertie are against the clock but the damage of the child-snatcher is far reaching for Paris and it is all the children and citizens of Paris who need saving.

What I loved about Piaf is her stature. She is tiny, often compared to a delicate, fragile bird but her loyalty, determination and courage make her into a giant. Her brother says the most wonderful thing to her when they re-group to form a new plan, “I might have to look down at you, Piaf, but I will always look up to you. That’s a fact”.

Thrilling, adventurous and thought provoking, this is gripping and will have readers rooting for the underdog every step of the way.

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