Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cutting Up Color

In my closet, a stash of more than thirty years of teaching ideas and lessons, is a well-worn flat brown paper bag.  Inside are treasures gathered from students ranging in ages from kindergarten through seniors in high school.  Each item is crafted by hand, some more experienced than others, into the beauty their minds imagined.  Every year these gems have hung from the ceiling in my libraries swirling and swaying in the currents of air.  No two alike, they mirror real snowflakes drifting down outside.

A little more than a year ago, I reviewed Colorful Dreamer: the Story of Artist Henri Matisse (November, 2012) by Marjorie Blain Parker with illustrations by Holly Berry.  In August of 2013 author illustrator Jeanette Winter chose to focus on the later years of Henri Matisse's life in her release titled Henri's Scissors (Beach Lane Books).  Inspired by a visit to the National Gallery in Washington, D. C. where she saw the original pieces Matisse created, she shares with readers his final creative years.

In a small weaving town in France, a young boy named Henri-Emile-Benoit Matisse watched his mother paint china.  He wanted to paint too.

Henri did draw and paint but it isn't until as a young man, an illness confining him to a hospital bed, he flourishes as an artist.  Once well, he abandons his career in law and paints and paints and paints...for years.  Matisse is now an old man.  Again Matisse is so ill he cannot leave his bed.  All he can do is sleep and dream.

Recuperating enough to be awake more than sleeping, Henri realizes he will be spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair or in bed. Little by little, Matisse gets stronger; strong enough to draw, strong enough to make art another way.

Using scissors he cuts shapes from painted paper.  On his walls hang a world filled with color, filled with life.  As his ideas grow, so do the shapes.  In his hands Henri's scissors were magical.

Readers of Jeanette Winter's work know she uses few words to narrate her stories but those words she chooses to use, convey all we need to know.  Her words fill us with the emotional essence of a person.  We come to understand and know their purpose and passions.  To add authenticity to Henri Matisse's story, Winter places quotes from his writing within her text.  Here is but one example.

Matisse cut paper all day.
"My pleasure 
in cutting things out
grows even greater.
Why didn't I think of
it earlier?"
His assistants painted paper for him all day.

If you open the matching jacket and cover of this book, Jeanette Winter gives readers an overview of Matisse's work in his younger years on the left.  Against a dark background of blue, lighter pinpoints surround Henri, palette and brush in hand, looking at four pieces of his work. To the right, although he is years older, there is a sense of joy, of lightness, to the picture of him cutting out shapes, a cat and bird by his side.   Opening and closing endpapers in pale golden yellow feature quotes, Henri's hand holding his scissors and stars.

That same hue of yellow creates wide frames around smaller, single page square illustrations when Winter is acquainting us with Henri.  Complementary shades of blue, green, rose, purple and white across the remaining two-page pictures provide the canvas for her acrylic and cut paper visuals.  Her text follows the flow of her illustrations.

Depending on the moment she wishes to depict, Winter might provide readers with a more wide-angle view following it with a closer perspective.  In the final four pages Winter imagines Henri Matisse passing from earth into the heavens, wondering about his current use of his scissors.  It is utterly lovely.
One of my favorite illustrations is of Matisse lying in bed, arms extended as he holds a pole with chalk tied to the end.  He is drawing the faces of his grandchildren on the ceiling.

The value of biographical works such as Henri's Scissors written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter is to show readers the true measure of a person's life no matter their age.  It highlights pursuing your passion even if you need to alter the means of attaining your goals.  This delightful book comes with my highest recommendation.  If you follow this link to the publisher's website you can see one of my favorite pictures.

I am excited to be participating in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at her blog Kid Lit Frenzy.  Make sure you stop over there to see all the other nonfiction picture books showcased by other bloggers.


  1. Thanks you for such a beautiful review Margie. I am interested in this title. I do so much art with my children - I want to share more details of actual artist's lives.

    1. You are welcome, Carrie. I know your children would love this title. I did not know his cut work was so large until I read this book. It presents so many possibilities.

  2. Isn't this such a beautifully created. Love it. Thanks for sharing it.

    1. It is Alyson! Jeanette Winter can certainly bring history to life. The final four pages is very well done. You are welcome. Looking forward to next Wednesday!