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.
Give and Take by Chris Raschka
A farmer who grows apples discovers a strange little man out in his orchard just as his apples are ready to pick. The little man is named Take and he encourages the farmer to listen to him so that he can have a fine life. Though the farmer already has a fine life, Take promises to make it better. So the farmer goes through his day taking everything. He takes all of his neighbors pumpkins when she offers him some. He takes her advice to make pumpkin soup, and he takes a long hike. Left wishing he had some apples to eat, he kicks out Take the next morning. Then when he visits his orchard that morning, he meets another little man named Give. Give promises to make his life sweeter, so once again the farmer tries. He gives everything away, including his apples and all of his opinions. He is left hungry another night and kicks Give out. But in the morning, he discovers the two little men fighting with one another. Can a farmer outwit these two battling forces?
Raschka has written this picture book with the tone of a fable. Readers will immediately see Take as a selfish force and then think that Give is the angelic voice. But Raschka’s take is more nuanced than that, showing the harm in being too giving with everything in your life and how it can turn toxic and harmful too. He then goes about having his farmer propose a balance of giving and taking in life. The result is a book that has balance, a folkloric rhythm and tone, and is a great read aloud and opportunity for discussion.
Raschka’s illustrations are his trademark flowing and free style. He uses watercolors contained with thick black lines. The bright red of the farmer’s nose and the apples pop on the page along with the pink pig and the orange pumpkins. As always, his book is art, changing with each turn of the page as the story is told.
Perfect for discussions about balance, generosity and greed, this picture book is a great balance of art and folklore itself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.