Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, January 3, 2013

In The Eye Of The Beholder

I have always been fascinated with combinations of color.  In fact in kindergarten about the only drawings I brought home (and which my Mom saved) were those of rainbows.  Even today, decades later the sight of a rainbow will stop me in my tracks.  It's like everything is spread before you, inviting you to mix and match.

This and my desire to work on my book gap challenge as highlighted by Donalyn Miller, educator and author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, in a post at the Nerdy Book Club, prompted me to pick up a book in the nonfiction section at my favorite indie bookstore last week.  Written by Marjorie Blain Parker with illustrations by Holly Berry Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse (Dial Books for Young Readers) is an impressive, inspirational introduction to the life of one of the most notable artists of the twentieth century. It's a book not only about daring to dream but pursing your dream with a passion.

Years ago a dreamy boy gazed out his bedroom window.  He lived
in a deary village in France.  It was an industrial town---choked with
factories, clanking looms, and smoking chimneys.

Although the town itself seemed cloaked in a dismal gray, spots of color came and went with the seasons.  One constant source of brightness in an otherwise dull landscape was in the mind of Henri Matisse.

His noticeable inability to focus on anything which his hard-working parents deemed important was a source of concern.  It seemed Henri's greatest asset was his ability to imagine; to picture in his mind what he might do.  His parents felt a sense of hope when as a young man he left to study law in Paris.  

As readers without turning the next page we know this is not a good arrangement.  Henri becomes very ill spending a lengthy stay in the hospital.  While there he requests a set of paints from his mother.  

It's as if a cosmic gear has clicked into place  After painting at every opportunity his current job afforded, to his parents' distress, he decided to leave the law profession to pursue a full time career in art.  Years of study, hard work for something he clearly loved and determination fueled his deep desire to succeed.

Family, painting, travel, painting, patrons and painting filled Henri's life.  His distinctive style, his passionate pursuit of his art, eventually brought him the attention he deserved and desired.  In his later years illness caused him to follow another form of expression, cut-paper collage, drawing with scissors, which heightened his fame.  His life closed as it began when he was a little boy...with color; only now it surrounded him.

By acquainting readers with Henry when he is a boy, describing his town, his family and contrasting it with his boyish hopes and aspirations, Marjorie Blain Parker immediately creates a connection with which they can identify.  This connection continues when she uses anecdotes such as his pea-shooting
abilities while clerking or the painting on legal documents for practice as part of his story. What she chooses to tell us about this artist not only makes him real, coming to life within these pages, but conveys without a doubt his dedication to his work.  Her choice of words, the rhythm generated by her sentence structure and length, are those of a storyteller.  

When unfolding the matching jacket and cover, readers are immediately drawn to the vivid palette and differing styles of medium arranged across the two sections, focusing on the boy, surrounded by his adult art on the front and on Matisse's future home and travels on the back.  The bright sky blue of the endpapers becomes a hand squeezing out swirls of red, yellow, blue and green from a paint tube on the title page.  Using colored pencils, acrylic paint, watercolor, ink and collage on rag paper Holly Berry forms illustrations delineating between the two worlds in Henri's life; before and after discovering art.

Her delicate, detailed drawings of the town of Henri's youth (a tiny mouse crossing the cobblestones, the goods in his parents' store, an old milk can) overlaid with the colorful collages of his youthful dreams are splendiferous.  She includes important items such as the doves in the young boy's musings. (Matisse had doves around his home in his adult years.) Most of the pictures of life prior to his assured success are one page crossing the gutter to include half of the other with a narrow framing line to separate the portion used for the text.  Throughout these pages small intricate drawings enhance a single idea within the text.  The remainder of the book is an explosion of color mirroring his style in painting and finally in collage.  Stunning.

The narration written by Marjorie Blain Parker and illustrations by Holly Berry in Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse are as lively as the subject covered within the pages of this book.  A note about Henri Matisse is included on the final page as well as two additional resources and a list of museums housing his art.  Please visit the author and illustrator websites by following the links embedded in their names above.

This is a video which might be used in conjunction with this title.

This is a link to a PBS site where children can make their own virtual Matisse-like collages.  This is a link to an art teacher's website, Art for Small Hands, for a unit on Matisse.

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