Review: The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel

fantastic jungles

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall

This striking picture book is a biography of the artist, Henri Rousseau.  It tells the story of this man as he started to do art at forty years old. Rousseau dreamt of being an artist because he saw so much beauty and color everywhere. He couldn’t afford lessons, so he read many books to learn techniques and structure.  At age 41, Rousseau entered an art exhibition for the first time.  The art experts said mean things about his art, but Rousseau kept painting.  Inspired by the World’s Fair in Paris, he began to draw jungles.  Rousseau kept entering exhibitions and kept getting rude things written about his art.  He kept on painting, eventually getting accepted by the younger artists in Paris, like Pablo Picasso.  By the end of his life, no one was laughing or scorning his art.  Rousseau had not just proven himself to the critics, but to the entire world.

Markel has chosen to write this book in the present tense and also to call Rousseau by his first name throughout.  Both of these make the book feel welcoming and immediate.  The prose here is never dense and at times is almost playful as Rousseau (or Henri) starts to discover his talent and inspirations.  It is like you are discovering things alongside Rousseau.

Hall’s art pays beautiful homage to Rousseau’s own work.  Reading her Illustrator’s Note, one finds that she has changed her medium for this book, using watercolor and acrylics to achieve Rousseau’s characteristic look and feel.  She also used some of his original work as direct inspiration, adding his breaking of scale and perspective rules as well.

This is a superb picture book biography of an artist who came late to finding his passion in life.  Both his life and work are inspirations for children and adults to dream big and ignore the critics.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

shark king

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

Toon Books has mastered the art of graphic novels for early readers and this book adds to the depth of their offerings.  This story comes from Hawaii and this the tale of Nanaue.  He is the child of a normal mother and The Shark King.  His parents fell in love after his father rescued his mother from drowning.  When Nanaue was about to be born, his father left.  Nanaue was an unusual child, not only because he walked at such an early age, but because of a unique mark on his back that could open into a mouth and snap.  After meeting a boy and his father, a fisherman, Nanaue started to catch fish to eat.  He followed the fishermen to find food, eating so much that he drove them further away.  Nanaue was eventually discovered by the villagers and his mark was revealed.  They chased him all the way back home and even then he had to dive to safety in the sea.  The place that his father created just for him before he was born.

Johnson keeps this rather complicated story simple thanks to the use of the images to tell much of the story.  The snapping mouth on Nanaue’s back is shown rather than described, making it completely and immediately understandable.  The book moves quickly through the story, giving extra time to the beauty of the undersea world and the freedom that Nanaue finds there.

Done in panels that are ever changing in their design, the book has a sense of motion and speed.  Johnson manages to insert welcome humor into the dramatic tale without ever undermining the amazing tale he is telling.

A rich graphic novel for young readers, this book celebrates a little-known Hawaiian story.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Toon Books.

This Week’s Tweets and Pins

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter and Pinterest accounts that you might find interesting:


Ellen Hopkins discusses new YA novel, ‘Tilt’ | Shelf Life |

Five questions for Louise Erdrich — The Horn Book #kidlit

I Double-Dog Dare You! by Jarrett J. Krosoczka « Nerdy Book Club

Lois Lowry connects it all in ‘Son’ – – so looking forward to reading this one!

Not just for kids: Children’s book author/illustrator Anne Rockwell makes fine arts debut – Greenwich Citizen

Rae Carson talks the ‘Fire and Thorns’ trilogy | Shelf Life | #yalit

Roald Dahl always cheered on the children – Telegraph


Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books: Why kids love them, and parents should make peace with them. – Slate Magazine

Deji Olukotun: The Banning of Harry Potter

A perfect book to begin the new school year — The Library @anitasilvey#kidlit

Top 10 books That Had Me At Hello by JoEllen McCarthy « Nerdy Book Club

What Makes a Good Manners Book? — The Horn Book #kidlit


The Ever-Playful McSweeney’s Enters a New Game: Children’s Books – Steven Heller – The Atlantic

HarperCollins pays six figures for teenage author | The Bookseller

Random House launches new website for young readers | New York Daily News

Scholastic’s Fall 2012 Librarian Preview

Who Will Create the New Normal in Children’s Book Publishing? | Latina Lista #kidlit


Delayed Reaction or Delayed Satisfaction?: When Sequels Emerge Years Later | The Hub #yalit

EarlyWord » New YA Best Sellers – Unwholly and Every Day reach the best sellers list!

Meet Abbie Gibbs, the new star of vampire fiction | #yalit

Panel talks book bans | – The Minnesota Daily