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The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse Hardcover – October 14, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—This richly textured picture book looks at Henri Matisse's inspiration as a young boy, beginning with a spread depicting the gray, clammy French village in which he grew up. But while it is cold and damp outside, Matisse's mother fills the interior of their home with light through pattern and color. She paints natural scenes on plates, allows her son to mix and experiment with paint, and covers every possible surface with color. They are surrounded by their art. This look at Matisse's creativity and artistic process is strong and unusual for several reasons. Maclachlan concentrates on Matisse's mother and her influence on his eventual career. Her poetic text doesn't give the specific details of the man's life, but readers come away with a real sense of his art. Hooper's art, a combination of relief printmaking and digital techniques, expands readers' understanding of the text. They have strong solid lines, contrasting with the wide range of pastel colors. Hooper isn't derivative of Matisse's style but rather takes his tools and creates something new. On one spread, the background features a piece of Matisse's art; careful viewers will notice the artist in the foreground, growing from a boy into a man. The book gives off a creative energy that readers of all ages will find fulfilling. The simplicity of the text makes this book appropriate to use as a springboard to Matisse's work for even the very young. A poetic look at creativity, both natural and nurtured.—Susan E. Murray, formerly at Glendale Public Library, AZ
*Starred Review* Could an essential, spirited picture book capture the brightness of a childhood that inspired a lifetime of genius? In two long, lyrical sentences, MacLachlan wonders about the early years of Henri Matisse, who grew up in a cold, gray city in northern France and was warmed by the colors of the paints, fabrics, and birds that surrounded him. Posing her thoughts as questions, MacLachlan distills Matisse’s first experiences, assembling them in rough detail to communicate their emotional impact, much like the Fauvist master her subject became. Hooper’s vivid block-print illustrations vibrate and hum, echoing Matisse’s lively sense of dynamic composition and brilliant color. In expansive spreads that fill the pages, she shows us a boy who thrilled to his environs, especially their hues, patterns, and iridescence. A central spread has young Henri climbing a ladder on the left while his grown self stands on the opposite side, demonstrating inspiration that has been realized. Thereafter, the child and adult Matisse occupy the pages together, sharing the space, now filled with the artist’s iconic imagery, and fulfilling their communal promise. Endnotes by the author and illustrator illuminate the depth and specificity of their research and suggest further reading. Grades K-3. --Thom Barthelmess
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