Monday, August 20, 2012

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau - a review

Markel, Michelle. 2012. The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau. Ill. by Amanda Hall. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Review copies provided by LibraryThing and publisher.

I can't imagine many tasks more difficult than painting illustrations for a biography of a famous painter.  In a book for adults, the artist's actual work speaks for itself, but in a picture book for children, the art must not only speak for its creator, but it must help to tell a story.  For The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, illustrator Amanda Hall eschewed her usual medium in favor of watercolor and acrylics, seeking to more closely mimic Rousseau's style in order to help tell his story.  More than mere imitations, however, she uses Rousseau's style and perspective as the medium to illustrate the time and place in which he lived, his joyous spirit, his famous contemporaries, his wonder at the natural world, and most of all, his complete commitment to his craft - regardless of how it is received by others.  Her illustrations are the perfect complement to Michelle Markel's prose, delivered in a present tense fashion that immediately engages the reader. In language that will speak clearly to children, Markel clearly conveys the transformative power of art,

By now Henri is used to the nasty critics.  He knows his shapes are simpler and flatter than everyone else's, but he thinks that makes them lovely.  He spends all he earns on art supplies, and pays for his bread and coal with landscapes and portraits.  In the afternoon he takes off his frayed smock and gives music lessons.  His home is a shabby little studio, where one pot of stew must last the whole week.  But every morning he wakes up and smiles at his pictures.
Poverty and rejection have never sound so appealing.  Henri Rousseau's life story is an inspiration. A toll collector who did not take up painting until his forties, Rousseau was untrained and largely unrecognized while living, but he was unfazed.  He later became "the first "naïve" artist to be recognized as a great master," and his works now hang in museums around the world.

Author's and Illustrator's Notes complete this stunning picture book biography for older readers.

Enjoy the book's trailer and "Spring," one of Rousseau's famous jungle paintings.

Painted by:Henri Julien Rousseau

Other reviews @

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at the Jean Little Library.


  1. I have this book on order from the library -- I can't wait to read it, particularly after reading your review. And I always like reading bios in present tense. You might be interested in the book I posted about today -- Words Set Me Free - The Story of the Young Frederick Douglas. The author dedicates the book to public librarians, such as you!

  2. I like that even from the cover page you can see Roussau's influence. Looks like a great book.


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