Eloise

subtitle: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups

Kay Thompson, author

Hilary Knight, illustrator

New York: Simon & Schuster, 1955

65 pp.

Age: 5 and up        (read full review: some may find content alarming!)

Interests: New York, hotels, room service, strong girls, bad behavior

Eloise is a six-year-old terror who lives in the posh Plaza Hotel in New York with her Nanny. Highly eccentric, Eloise entertains herself all around the Plaza, delighting in disruption, communing with the staff, and generally messing with the other residents of the hotel. Her British Nanny is a good match for her, unfazed but firm, more of an accomplice than a foe, and nearly as unconventional as Eloise herself.

This book is a loose account of Eloise’s daily life at the hotel, told in her own words. And very funny words they are too, for Eloise is melodramatic, sometimes pompous, demanding, alternately antagonistic and loveable, wildly imaginative, and precociously intelligent. A complex, well-rounded and fascinating portrait of a vibrant child in a rawther unique setting.

The author – actress, singer, composer Kay Thompson – lived in the Plaza herself, and though she often claimed “I am Eloise”, the character may also have been inspired by the activities of her young goddaughter Liza Minnelli. The titles penned by Thompson between 1955 and 1959 are Eloise, Eloise in Paris, Eloise at Christmastime, and Eloise in Moscow, although there are several other Eloise titles that have been published in later years. There are also TV movies and series based on the character.

This book is as hilariously irreverent as its main character, and doesn’t shy away from the sharper aspects of the child mind: the lurid tastes, the self-aggrandizement, the love of anarchy, and the incisive observations of grownups. Thompson’s rendering of the way children speak is crazily unique but totally believable – “sometimes I sklonk him in the kneecap”, “for Lord’s sake!”, “Ooooooo I absolutely love room service”. Eloise has a tutor from time to time whom she torments, but most of the time she spends on her own adventures around the Plaza. She mentions her mother once or twice as someone glamorous whom she doesn’t see very often, but Eloise is absolutely without self-pity in this regard… in fact the situation doesn’t seem to upset her one bit.

Sometimes written more for the adults in the crowd than the kids, parts of this book will float over your child’s head, but the illustrations are totally winning and wildly entertaining. If you don’t mind a little exposure to a hilariously ‘bad’ child, a very funny (but loooong) read for about age five and up.

Trivia: Kay Thompson’s best known film role was as the fashion editor Maggie Prescott in 1957’s Funny Face, starring alongside Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn.

A large portrait of Eloise hangs at the Plaza, and the hotel also boasts a recently unveiled Eloise Suite.

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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