The Sleeping Gypsy
by Mordicai Gerstein; illus. by the author
Primary Holiday 32 pp.
10/16 978-0-8234-2142-8 $16.95
e-book ed. 978-0-8234-3742-9 $16.95
Many of Henri Rousseau’s paintings appear to be telling a story, particularly The Sleeping Gypsy, which shows a woman sleeping on the desert sand with a mandolin on one side of her body and, on the other, a lion. What will happen next? Gerstein’s version of the story, with a context-setting prologue, is more humorous than one might have expected from this potentially ominous setup, and he eschews his familiar line and color wash style for more Rousseau-like opaque acrylics. The text evokes a vivid reality, providing the reader with the feelings, sounds, and even the tastes of the desert setting. After a long walk, a young woman sits down on the sand and plays her mandolin by moonlight, soon falling asleep. One by one, a lizard, rabbit, ostrich, and more come to inspect her, until a hungry lion bounds into the frame, and we think the jig is up. But then Rousseau appears, explaining that this is all a dream, which he intends to paint. As each animal then criticizes its likeness, Rousseau obligingly paints it out of the scene—all except the proud lion, who, happy to have become a more important part of the painting, stays to guard the young woman until daybreak. On the book’s last spread, Gerstein employs his own signature style to show an aerial view of Paris in detailed pen and wash, Rousseau’s garret in the forefront, where we see the artist viewing his finished work. Neatly conceived and wittily executed, Gerstein’s story is an example of the visual thinking strategies often used when children visit museums. Just think of the possibilities for the Mona Lisa and other masterpiece mysteries.
From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.