The Story of Diva and Flea

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Story of Diva and Flea Book Poster Image
Beautiful art befits charming friendship story set in Paris.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

An introduction to Paris and some of its landmarks (Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower) and to French language. The text is sprinkled lightly with French vocabulary. Willems introduces the word "flâneur," a particularly French word with no direct English equivalent, and he makes the meaning clear not only by defining it but by using it repeatedly and creatively -- for instance, as an English verb: "One afternoon, Flea was having a particularly good time flâneur-ing." The section headings are "Le Début," "Le Premier Entracte," "Le Deuxième Entracte," and "La Fin." The food bowls in the art are labeled "Patée" and "Eau."

Positive Messages

Friends can be different personality types and come from different economic circumstances. You can learn from friends and stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Adventure is liberating. Cities are fun to explore.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Diva's cautious and easily frightened, but, inspired by Flea, she develops into an adventurer. She also confronts Flea and stands up for herself when she thinks Flea is deliberately hurting her feelings. Flea is afraid of brooms and doesn't trust that he can have a home, but he becomes comfortably domesticated with Diva. Both friends are tolerant of each other's fears and careful of each other's feelings.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Story of Diva and Flea is the work of kid-lit dream team Mo Willems (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus) and Tony DiTerlizzi (The Spider and the Fly), two Caldecott honorees who traveled to Paris to collaborate on Willems' story. The simple cat-dog friendship tale is told in short chapters and geared for young readers, with a fun sprinkling of French vocabulary and a generous helping of charm. Flea's a stray, worldly cat who lives by his wits, and Diva's a small pup, timid and protected in her Parisian courtyard. With the up-down relationship, the story has echoes of Lady and the Tramp, though this is a friendship story, not a romance. DiTerlizzi's art perfectly renders the city in swoon-worthy detail and will transport Francophiles, both young and seasoned, to the magical City of Light.

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What's the story?

In THE STORY OF DIVA AND FLEA, Diva is a small dog with a big job, guarding a charming residential building in Paris. She stands watch at the filigreed gate -- and skedaddles at the first sound of approaching feet. Enter Flea, a scruffy stray cat who's a "flâneur," one who "wanders the streets and bridges and alleys of the city just to see what there is to see." After Diva accuses Flea of trying to hurt her feelings by scaring her, the two become fast friends. Flea regales Diva with stories about the wonders of the city just beyond her gate, including "the giant tower that can cut a cloud in half," which inspires Diva to venture out to see the Eiffel Tower. But Flea, too, gains from the friendship, mustering the courage to enter Diva's apartment, where he at last finds a welcoming home, one with something called "Breck-Fest," that to his amazement happens "with great regularity."

Is it any good?

The art brims with French charm in this beautifully produced book that's a gentle cat-dog friendship story and a mini-trip to Paris. Nothing's too difficult for young readers in this early chapter book, though Willems cleverly and skillfully weaves in some French words, such as "gardienne" and "flâneur" that go down as easily as a cup of chocolat. There's also fun in the animals' point of view; Flea doesn't know the human names for things such as "Eiffel Tower" and "breakfast," and when he comes to the Metro stop, he discovers "giant rooms on wheels would suddenly appear and release large groups of people," and he thinks, "So that's where people come from." The reassuring message is lightly delivered: Whatever your fears, you can stretch and move beyond them.

A close look at DiTerlizzi's exquisite art yields some fun surprises. He grants cameo appearances to both author and illustrator. Can the reader spot them? And he slyly posts a picture of Willems' famous pigeon on a sign at the Metro stop. But the real pleasure is in his loving rendering of Paris. The quintessentially Parisian architecture, Art Nouveau entrance to the Metro Stop, and artfully arranged window at the charcuterie transport us. It's richly produced, printed on heavy paper that provides tactile pleasure and underscores the book's classic feel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about friends. Do you have any friends who are different from you? What do you learn from each other?

  • Look closely at the art. Can you find pictures of the author and illustrator? And a picture from one of Mo Willems' other books?

  • Which character is the most like you? Are you more of an adventurer, like Flea, or more cautious, like Diva?

Book details

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