Review: Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan

iridescence of birds

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.