A Historical Portrait

Anne Renaud’s Ferdinand Cheval

By Meaghan Thurston

A review of Ferdinand Cheval by Anne Renaud

Published on July 4, 2022

Ferdinand Cheval
The Postman Who Delivered a Palace

Anne Renaud
Illustrated by Anna Salopek

Reycraft Books
$8.95
paper
32pp
9781478875949

Ferdinand Cheval: The Postman Who Delivered a Palace offers a historical portrait. On his delivery route one day, Monsieur Cheval stumbles upon an oddly shaped rock, which inspires him. “If nature can create such beauty, could I too not create beauty with these stones? Could they not be a reminder that, despite my humble life, I was once here?” That rock is the cornerstone of the Ideal Palace, an ornate structure built entirely from found stone singlehandedly by Cheval over thirty-three years – a feat mocked by his neighbours in his lifetime. Today, it is a popular tourist destination and heralded as one of Europe’s finest examples of naïve art architecture. 

It is not easy to pen a historical book for kids. Often the dialogue is dry and overly factual, a fault largely avoided by Anne Renaud’s grasp of poetic beauty. The story is not without some heartbreak – the loneliness of this man is not concealed – yet the dedication of this eccentric figure who built an oddity for the ages shines through. Anna Salopek’s illustrations mimic Cheval’s curious design and recall the curving lines and colourful mosaics of another celebrated architect, Antoni Gaudi. As was the Ideal Palace, the drawings feel born of dreams and visions. 

There is a place for works of creative non-fiction in children’s book collections. After reading this book, I was compelled to learn more about Cheval, my curiosity piqued. But what elevated this book above others in the genre is that my kids connected to this guy’s vibes. On our walks home from school, I am the designated keeper of the many interesting stones they insist on collecting (forgive me, dear neighbours, for the missing gravel) and I could very well build an Ideal Palace from the contents of my pockets! I recommend picking this book up when it is released in AugustmRb

Meaghan Thurston is a Montreal-based arts and science writer, co-editor of With the World to Choose From: Seven Decades of the Beatty Lecture at McGill University, and mother to two budding readers.

Comments

2 Comments

  1. Anne Renaud

    Thank you so much Meaghan for your lovely review. It is so greatly appreciated. I am so happy to learn your kids connected with this story.

    Reply
  2. Doug Price

    Anne Renaud’s new book!
    Thrilled to know my former colleague is continuing with her creative gift*couldn’t help notice her thank you to Meaghan was send in@ 3:16 am…those writer really burn the all night 🕯 ✅

    Reply

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