Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews

Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews

Matthews, Elizabeth. Different Like Coco.  Candlewick Press, 2007. 32 pp.  ISBN 978-0-7636-2548-1. $16.99


More than anything, Coco Chanel’s life story is a tale about using what you’ve got and and building on your strengths and resources. Schooled by French nuns, ambitious Coco, a charity case, learned early to emulate the bearing of the well-to-do so she could insert herself into certain circles to make smart connections. Matthews avoids the seemier aspects of Chanel’s life, and accentuates the positives, like her challenging of social boundaries.

Told with charm, Matthews hooks readers fast with this rags to riches story. Vocabulary opportunities abound and will prompt dialogical reading. A quick scan of online biographies reveal some minor discrepancies, but Coco loved to invent stories, including about herself; it’s no surprise there is not agreement on her date and place of birth, whether she wore her scissors on a ribbon or string of pearls, or if the item of clothing she hacked apart to make a cardigan was a pullover or a blazer.

The endpapers set a tone of unfussy style: black with high-contrast white script quotes from Coco about character: fashion, individuality, etc. Inside, the illustrations are a pen and ink and watercolors, done up in a cartoony style that manages to be lean, whimsical and elegant.  Careful attention to detail is evident in period clothing and cars. Mostly muted tones lend a squelched feeling the to book that undermine the vibrant personality described, though, the famously unique designer stands out from the crowd on every page.

A short timeline extends the biography by appending details such as fashion milestones (the debut of the little black dress, the first perfume bearing a designer’s name) and the date of her death. A bibliography is book-centric, with only one Internet link to her Time Life biography. Recommended for larger collections.

review by Beth Gallaway

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