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Review of The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse

maclachlan_iridescence of birdsThe Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse
by Patricia MacLachlan; 
illus. by Hadley Hooper
Primary    Porter/Roaring Brook    40 pp.
10/14    978-1-59643-948-1    $17.99

“If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived / in a dreary town…” Thus begins this speculative exploration of the painter’s early encounters with color, worded as a book-length query. It’s his mother who brightens Henri’s gray surroundings (“Painted plates to hang on the walls…she let you mix the colors”), brings him fruits and flowers to arrange, and swathes a room in red rugs. Most inspiring are the changeable colors of pigeons (given to Henri by his father). The brief text culminates with a second question: “Would it be a surprise that you became / A fine painter who painted / Light / and / Movement / And the iridescence of birds?” While MacLachlan addresses these mind-opening thoughts to the reader, Hooper visualizes what might have influenced the artist-to-be. Using relief prints and digital techniques with a decisive and economical rough-edged black line and colors that echo Matisse’s evolving palette, Hooper sets the happily involved small boy amongst images that become bolder and brighter as the book progresses while fluidly incorporating the painter’s own imagery. It’s a spacious and beautiful book, as much a lesson for adults on visual enrichment and nurturing a creative spirit as an introductory biography for children. Back matter comprises notes by both author and illustrator and a list of four biographies for children.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Joanna Rudge Long About Joanna Rudge Long

Joanna Rudge Long is former editor of Kirkus Reviews and a frequent lecturer on children’s books.

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Comments

  1. Beautifully written review of what surely must be regarded as a picture book masterpiece. Joanna, I much appreciate your acknowledgment that the book will bring just as much joy to adults as to the kids who are fortunate enough to have this utterly sublime biographical work brought to their attention. As you well know we’ve had some great books about artists the past two years – Jennifer Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s exquisite A SPLASH OF RED last year and in 2014 Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor’s lovely EDWARD HOPPER PAINTS HIS WORLD.

    I also think this is one of the great covers, a real feast for the eyes.

    I just published my own take as the third entry in my Caldecott Contender series at WitD:

    http://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/caldecott-medal-contender-the-iridescence-of-birds/

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