Sunday, December 6, 2015

Book Review: The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Charming, sweet story; wonderful illustrations
Cons: Two French words might trip up young readers
The Bottom Line:
Dog and cat as friends?
Yes, in delightful story
Will charm everyone

Delightfully Cute Story for an Early Chapter Book

As you might have noticed, I’ve become a huge fan of Mo Willems in the last few years.  I try to keep up with all of his books, which is fairly easy because he usually writes delightful picture books.  (No, seriously.  If you’ve haven’t read any of them yet, take five minutes to read one.)  So when I heard about The Story of Diva and Flea, I knew I had to give it a try.  It’s no surprise to me that I loved it.

This is a bit of a departure for Mo in two ways.  First, it is for a slightly older audience than his typical easy reader books.  It’s almost 70 pages long and includes chapters and more words than normal.  Secondly, instead of doing the illustrations himself, Mo asked his friend Tony DiTerlizzi to do them.  Neither of these is a weakness in the slightest, just something worth noting.

The story centers around the unlikeliest of friends, a small dog named Diva and an ally cat named Flea.  Diva lives in a small Paris apartment and stands guard in the courtyard every day.  However, she is very timid and runs away at everything, including approaching feet.  Flea, on the other hand, spends his days exploring the city of Paris and living by his wits.

One day, Flea walks outside the courtyard and sees Diva.  While at first he delights in teasing her, soon he is spending his days telling Diva about all the things he’s experienced.  As their friendship grows, they each impact the other in significant ways.  How exactly will their lives change?

While there may be some changes from Mo’s normal books, there are some similarities.  We get the power of friendship and how that can change you for the better.  That’s a constant theme of his Elephant and Piggie books after all.  Both Diva and Flea are good characters (especially for a short book), and it’s hard not to fall in love with them.

The story is predictable for adults, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great.  I found myself touched by it, and I’m sure kids won’t figure out where it is going.  Not that the book is filled with twists or surprises.  It’s just a simple, touching story of how an unexpected friendship helped these two characters lead better lives.  It’s truly such a sweet book with nothing that should frighten anyone.

Each two page spread is filled with wonderful pen and ink illustrations by Tony.  His artwork is beautiful and brings the story to life in a rich way.  Most two page spreads are roughly half text and half picture, so the pages will still go by quickly, encouraging young readers since they will feel like they are making great progress in the book.

My only hesitation is a couple of French words that Mo Willems uses.  He gives plenty of context, so it’s easy to figure out what the words mean, but beginning readers might stumble a bit over the French words and their pronunciation.  Then again, maybe that’s just me since I’ve always struggled with foreign languages.  On the other hand, Flea has some very fun misunderstandings of words that will delight young readers.

So if you are looking for a great book to transition your young reader toward chapter books, The Story of Diva and Flea will do just that.  Everyone will be charmed with this delightful story.

While the target audience for this book is Grades 1 through 3, I am still including it in this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.


  1. I adored this and bought a copy for my middle school library! I thought it had a great lesson about stepping outside one's comfort zone.

    1. Exactly, stepping outside one's comfort zone. Both of them learned that lesson.

  2. Sounds like a good read aloud and a discussion starter. Thanks for sharing. I hadn't heard of this one.

    1. Yes, this could be a great read aloud, and plenty of great discussions could come from it.

  3. Mo Willems is a favorite around here and I love that he's written a chapter book. I've started reading chapter nights as bedtime stories and this looks like a great one to try.

  4. Mo Willems is genius! I'm excited for this one, and I'm definitely getting it for my nephews for Christmas (they introduced me to Elephant and Piggie). (They'll enjoy the French words, because they're in French Immersion.)

    1. He is indeed a genius. And I bet that your nephews will do much better with the book than I do.

  5. I really want to read this now! Thanks for featuring it.

  6. Hmm...I might have to read this. Thanks for reviewing!

  7. Unlikely pairing. Will have to read this one. I didn't realize Mo Willems had written a longer story.