“Tell me a Mitzi,” said Martha.
     “Later I will,” said her mother. “Now I’ve got a headache.”
     In a little while Martha asked her mother, “Mommy, now is it later?”
     “No,” said her mother. “It’s still now.”
     In a little while Martha asked her mother if she had a headache.
     “No,” said her mother, “Why?”
     “Tell me a Mitzi,” said Martha.

tell

So begins the second of three stories in Lore Segal’s* Tell Me a Mitzi, a picture book with a frame story (in italics) about a family with a daughter named Martha (as seen in the story intro above) plus three stories (in regular font) about the heroine, Mitzi, and her little brother, Jacob.

Mitzi is an independent girl with independent ideas, so while she depends on her mama to help her when she’s sick (like in the second story, “Mitzi Sneezes”), she also dresses herself and her little brother in the first story, “Mitzi Takes a Taxi,” in order to set off into a New York morning to head to her grandparents’ home. Not much taller than the stroller herself, she’s bold and gutsy and not afraid. In her world, adults help children, and children try and do things that they might not ordinarily do, like say hello to the President.

Martha, the frame-story girl, wants attention and focus from her parents, and she gets it in the form of three stories: “Mitzi Takes a Taxi,” “Mitzi Sneezes,” and “Mitzi and the President.” The first and last highlight the independent Mitzi, perhaps to nudge Martha towards independence herself; the middle one shows the Mitzi who needs love and attention and comfort to get through a cold, just as any child like Martha does. Families provide for their children’s needs in these stories, whether it’s in the form of a story, orange juice and soup when sick, or gum and a parade. Who doesn’t love a parade?

No matter which Mitzi you get, your children will be delighted. Mine were. Girl and Boy both relish the stories, and they especially enjoy “Mitzi Sneezes,” with its twist on what happens when the caretakers need care themselves. The stories are accompanied by Harriet Pincus’s charmingly weird illustrations, which are reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s: the children are like small adults with grown-up faces who populate a brightly-colored world filled with kindness. You receive the help you need, even if it’s not always the help you want. You get a story when you need it.

When it’s done, you may find that you want to be told another Mitzi, too.

**********
Segal, Lore. Tell Me a Mitzi. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 1970.

* For more on Lore Segal and her interesting history (plus more on the history of the book and the illustrator), check out this article by Marjorie Ingall.