Monday, January 19, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: The Iridescence of Birds: A book about Henri Matisse by Patricia Maclachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Was it an anniversary of Matisse recently? It feels like I've seen a lot of Matisse books coming out. So, normally I am not a fan of any picture book biographies, at all, ever. However, the art looked pretty and I knew staff, if not patrons, would want to see any book by Patricia MacLachlan.

The story is told a little differently than the usual picture book biography. It starts out "If you were a boy named Henry Matisse who lived in a deary town in northern France..." and then talks about how you would long for color and light, love the art that your mother created and shared with you, and eventually begin to experiment with art yourself and grow up to be a great artist; Henri Matisse.

Notes from the author and illustrator talk about how they came to create the text, where artists' ideas come from, and how the illustrator created the illustrations which suggest Matisse's paintings. There is also a brief list of books for reading more about Matisse.

I really wanted to like this one. MacLachlan's text is, as always, beautiful and Hooper's illustrations show a fun new talent (I believe this is her first picture book). Instead, I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed throughout the book. The only picture book biographies that, in my opinion, work well are those which can be easily read as a picture book to a child with no previous knowledge of or interest in the subject. This one almost, almost works that way. It would be a great book to introduce a young child to the beautiful colors, shapes, and art in the world around you. Until you get to the final pages which mimic some of Matisse's famous artwork, including La Danse, carefully edited to cut off the upper bodies facing the viewer and only show their backs.

Verdict: This book won't introduce a young child to the actual art of Matisse, since it does not include any of his actual art. Parents are likely to be annoyed by having to explain why all the dancing ladies are naked. Without the context of knowing who Matisse is (or understanding the concept of "famous artist" the story doesn't hold together well. Older kids, assuming you can find any willing to read a picture book or interested in Matisse, will turn up their nose at the "cute" illustrations, obviously aimed at younger readers. There's no audience for this at my library and I wish these two had collaborated on a picture book actually intended for children.

ISBN: 9781596439481; Published 2014 by Roaring Brook; Borrowed from another library in my consortium


Elisa Bergslien said...

My daughter had no problem with the naked dancing ladies. She obsessed over the red room and the idea of rugs on walls. All in all, it was a very trying book to read to my daughter. I won't dare take it to a mystery reader day. Eek!

Jennifer said...

Yeah, I personally have no problem with the naked ladies and most of our patrons don't - but the ones who do would be very upset. And I wouldn't consider that a reason not to purchase a book - I have NOT drawn underpants on Mickey after all, but I just don't see the purpose of this.