The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations by Hadley Hooper
Henri Matisse grew up in a town in northern France that was cold, gray and dreary. But his mother filled their world with color with the plates that she painted with nature scenes. She also let Henri mix the paint colors. He was also the person who arranged the fruit and flowers that they bought in the market, on the blue and white tablecloth. Red rugs adorned the walls of their house, filling it with color too and making the whole world turn red. Henri also raised pigeons with their iridescent feathers. And all of these elements of his childhood came together in his work as an adult, reflecting the color that one can see in the dreariest of towns.
MacLachlan has written this picture book in an unusual second person, inviting the reader to feel the environment just as Matisse himself did as a child. The slow reveal of the richness of his childhood at home plays beautifully against the original gray and dullness of the outside. It is as if he was given another world to grow up in, one of colors and delight. Though when readers really look at it, it is about small things, tiny touches, being surrounded by paint, and of course the brilliance of pigeons too.
The illustrations by Hooper are rich and saturated with color. Done in a combination of relief printmaking and digital formats, the book has a grounding in the solidity of printmaking that gives it texture and a feeling of tradition. Playing against that is the modern lightness of the little boy, surrounded by the color and delight of his home. It’s an exquisite pairing.
Rich, detailed and delightful, this picture book biography of the inspiration that Matisse found in his childhood home is sure to invite young readers to find their own sources of inspiration around them. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter
When Henri-Emile Matisse was a young boy, he longed to make art the way his mother did. So he drew as much as he could and then painted after receiving paints as a gift. But when he was on old man, he had to remain in bed or a wheelchair and didn’t have the energy or ability to paint. As he recovered, Matisse started to draw and then picked up a pair of scissors and started cutting paper. Matisse started a second phase of his art career with assistants who painted pages for him to cut from, dreams of the shapes to cut out, and surrounded by the bright colors of his art. He created a garden that he could visit right from his bed.
Winter starts with Matisse as a boy finding art and quickly moves the book to his paper cutting phase in the latter part of his life. For a picture book biography, the text is very simple yet conveys his great attachment and gift for creating art. It also speaks to the creative process and trying new things that fit with life’s limitations.
Winter fills her book with bright colors both in Matisse’s art itself but also as the backgrounds to her images. When Matisse is without art, the book becomes dark yet star-filled. As he returns to creating pieces, the book lightens and blossoms visually.
A very successful picture book biography, this book will be welcome in elementary and preschool art classes. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse by Marjorie Blain Parker, illustrated by Holly Berry
Matisse grew up in a French town that was industrial and gray. Despite this, he dreamed in bright colors. He was a boy who did not do well in school, at music, or really at much of anything except dreaming. Matisse decided to study law in Paris, but he discovered that being a law clerk was very dull, copying legal documents word for word by hand. Due to the stress, Matisse ended up in a hospital bed for months. It was there that he started painting to pass the time. Now he had found exactly what he was good at. It wasn’t easy, there were times he lacked food and money, but he worked very hard at his art. Years later, Matisse found himself sick and in bed again in his old age. He could no longer stand at an easel, so he turned to making cut-out collages, and those pieces turned out to be some of his most celebrated creations.
Parker vividly tells the story of a boy who grew up as a very unlikely artist. From his colorless surroundings to the fact that he had never discovered his artistic gift, it is amazing that Matisse became what he was. I appreciate particularly her celebration of the creative and the imaginative. She also makes sure though that young readers know how much work it took for Matisse to reach success and that it did not come instantaneously. It’s a book that speaks to everyone having a gift, but also the hard work it takes to achieve it.
Berry’s art plays black-and-white against brilliant color. The gray world of Matisse’s youth is shown in intricate pencil illustrations, but pales against the radiant color of his dreams and his art. As the pages turn, Matisse’s world becomes the same colors as the art he creates, demonstrating that he has finally found his place in the world as a whole.
Beautifully illustrated and written as an inspiration to young people looking for their own special place in the world, this is a very special look at a famous artist. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.