Different Like Coco
by Elizabeth Matthews
Published by Candlewick Press, 2007
Ages: 7 – 11
Themes: Being different, female independence, biography, class-based society, fashion
Opening/Synopsis: “AT A TIME when France was the centre of all that was wealthy, grandiose and fashionable, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was born poor and skinny. COCO WAS ALWAYS DIFFERENT.”
Isn’t this a cracking hook? From the streets of poverty, through a barren catholic orphanage to Paris, the hub of world fashion at the beginning of the 20th century, Coco carries herself with confidence, independence and determination. Her cheeky charismatic personality is evident from her early fashionable play, to her making up stories at the confessional, through to her creeping in to the polo matches to make contact with the high society of Gay Paris. Her liaison with a wealthy British aristocrat is her doorway into shop ownership and eventual iconoclastic fame for her unique style. She played to her uniqueness and her strengths and she never let her lowly beginnings determine her future or how she should be treated. Her simple, practical yet chic style was to give her legendary fame by her fifties. One telling sentence towards the end of the book is, “women no longer wanted to dress just like Coco — they wanted to be like Coco.”
Why I like this book: I struggle with thinking up god titles, and this is an example of a great title which captures the essence of the entire book! Matthews has a light, vibrant confident style, rather like her protagonist Ms Chanel! The characters are almost caricatured and there is humor on every page through expression, interaction and witty asides. A lot of information is imparted but with such fun and gaiety, that even young girls won’t be overwhelmed by the content. I most appreciate though, is this willful independent spirit through two world wars and a time of social upheaval, Coco was a real pioneer not just for women, but for celebrating one’s uniqueness. I think many girls will enjoy this spirited biography. I have to say today’s choice may not appeal to as many boys, but why not? It should inspire anyone to dare to dream!
This is a great lesson plan on Coco for upper elementary students.
I think this could lead into a discussion with this age group, about how people are often treated with regards to their wealth or status or lack thereof.
Why not have a fashion designing art activity!
A fashion show for boys and girls!
This is part of our ongoing Perfect Picture Book Fridays, where we are creating a pool of suggested books and resources for parents and educators. To find out more do visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and her Perfect Picture Book List.