La France en danger et les secrets de Picasso

Book Title La France en danger et les secrets de Picasso (France in Danger and the Secrets of Picasso)
Author(s) Mira Canion
Illustrator(s) David Bruce Bennett
Other Contributors Kendra Whipkey (photos)
Anny Ewing (French translation)
Published by self-published
Genre Historical Fiction / Mystery and Adventure
Publication date 2013, 2017
#Ownvoices N/A
From the author/publisher’s website
Level 1

Total Word Count
140 unique words and many French-English cognates. total count (length of book) unknown. 44 pages of text
Illustrations                 YES 
Glossary                     YES 
Guiding Questions     YES  
Context                        YES
Races, Ethnicities, and Nationalities
White European (French)

Languages spoken

Sex and Genders

Young Adult: 18-35

Social classes
Upper Class
Sexual Orientation

(Dis)Abilities and Neurotypes
No (dis)abilities or neurotypes mentioned.

Religions, Syncretism, and Spirituality
The plot features a historical Christian artifact.

Relationship and Family Structures
Extended family

Body Descriptions
Straight size

The text describes the character Marcel as short, and the character Pauline as very pretty with long, brown hair.
From the author/publisher’s website 

Pablo Picasso’s mural Guernica is on display during the 1937 International Exposition in Paris. Opposing sides of French politics, Charles de Gaulle and Maréchal Pétain, quickly realize that the painting contains clues to the whereabouts of the supernatural Spear of Destiny. Its occult power can change the outcome of the French Resistance, just as it has done in other conflicts throughout history. As Pauline’s imagination begins to decipher the hidden symbols, Maréchal Pétain’s secret agents are not far behind her. They are ready to capture the Spear at the most opportune moment, convinced that the impulsive Pauline will betray her quest for the Spear.
To what extent do the illustrations present positive and thoughtful representations of identities?

The book has very few illustrations. The illustrations that are included are of objects relevant to the story, such as a rendition of Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica (p. 10), a 1937 Talbot-Lago automobile (p. 21), and a man carrying a lance on horseback.
We understand identities are complex and no single story represents the spectrum of identity-based experiences. Also, a text may address a stereotype, misrepresentation, or generalization without relying on it.

Does any stereotype, misrepresentation, or generalization affect any positive and thoughtful representations of identities in the text?

This section is for teachers who are working towards sourcing more texts within the four domains of anti-bias education. We are excited about reading all books and we understand that not all books are written for this specific purpose. 

Does this text work toward goals within any of the four domains of anti-bias education as defined by Learning for Justice

Content warnings – 
Gender Essentialism: The text includes mockery of a self-identified male wearing a dress and the assumption that a female character would not be attracted to the male character if he were dressed as a woman. The characters make gender-based assumptions about appearance and activities (p. 29-31).
Animal Cruelty: A bull fighting scene is described where the animal is paralyzed (p. 56).

Two young-adult friends, Pauline and Luc, race from Paris to Arles on a mission from General Charles de Gaulle. The Spear of Destiny could determine the fate of France during World War II, and Pauline and Luc go on an adventure to track it down. But it is a race against the spies of Maréchal Pétain, who wants to help the Nazi party control Europe. Pauline’s vivid imagination leads her and her friend Luc (the nephew of de Gaulle) on a quest to decipher symbols that will reveal the location of the Spear of Destiny.  The author has described this book as being suitable for French 1, which seems appropriate given the language used in the book.

This novel is comprehensible and the plot is rather suspenseful. The lead is a female character who uses her wits, athleticism, and imagination to track down the Spear of Destiny. She does not rely on Luc to take the lead or save her. She and Luc are not romantic interests.

The novel references historical events (World War II) although the war itself isn’t a focus. The culture is addressed authentically through the descriptions of settings.

Characters mock each other for presenting in gender non-conforming ways. For instance, the text states, 
“Roger est furieux parce que Marcel n’est pas un agent très efficace quand il parle avec une belle femme.  Roger veut que Marcel parle avec Pauline déguisé en femme. [Marcel répond] ‘Qui? Moi? Déguisé en femme?  C’est ridicule!’ / Roger is furious because Marcel is not an efficient spy when he talks to a beautiful woman. Roger wants Marcel to dress as a woman,” to which Marcel then responds, “Me, disguised as a woman? That’s ridiculous!” (pp. 29-30).

Some characters express gender essentialist assumptions. For example, when Marcel dresses as a princess, Pauline thinks, “C’est évident que la princesse est un homme.  Elle a de grandes mains. / It is obvious that the princess is a man–she has large hands” (p. 30). Pauline escapes from Marcel, who is dressed as the princess. Marcel refuses to run after her and explains to Roger that “Une princesse ne court pas / a princess does not run” (p. 31).

Although Marcel is a spy, he focuses his attention on the beauty of Pauline and takes pictures of her hair, her lips, and her eyes (pp. 13, 23). Teachers may wish to discuss with students the appropriateness of taking photos without consent.

The book was originally written in Spanish and set during the civil war in Spain (1936-1939). It was then translated into French and transposed to the context of the events in France leading up to World War II (1939-1945). In doing so, some historical misalignments occurred. For example, the opposing forces of General de Gaulle and Maréchal Pétain were not yet established in 1937, when the events of the book take place.

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