Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Defined By Childhood

There is no denying the influence of our natural world, the place in which we live and our family during our childhood; ultimately determining the way we live our entire lives.  We can select consciously or unconsciously to emulate those sensory perceptions we experience.  Decisions in opposition to those impressions can also direct the course we take.

Beginning her author's note Patricia MacLachlan says:

Why do painters paint what they do?  Do they paint what they see or what they remember?  The great painter Henri Matisse's life story may have some answers.

In her newest picture book, The Iridescence of Birds:  A Book About Henri Matisse (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press), MacLachlan traces the paths followed as a child and as an adult by this accomplished artist.  Hadley Hooper, illustrator of Here Come the Girl Scouts!, pictures the text

using a combination of relief printmaking and digital techniques.

If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived
in a dreary town in northern France where the skies were gray   ...

Let's pause for a minute.  What would YOU do?  Have you figured it out?  Henri, as a young boy, chose to wish for color and the warmth of the sun.

His mother painted plates full of bright hues which were hung on the walls in their home.  She brought the outside inside decorating them with flora and fauna from their surroundings.  Henri helped her by blending basic shades of paint to create other colors.

After a trip to the market, buying fruits and flowers, it was Henri who placed them around their home.  Their town, a mill town, had people who wove vibrant bolts of silk in an array of patterns.  Perhaps to bring more warmth into their home, his mother would hang red rugs on the walls and place them on the dirt floor of their parlor.  Henri noticed the same red on the feet of his pigeons.  He marveled at the shifting shades reflected on their feathers.

In the final nine pages we are offered a comparison.  We are given gifts.  We see his youth mirrored in his lifetime works which have and will continue to stand the test of time.

Clearly Patricia MacLachlan is familiar with the life and art of Henri Matisse as evidenced by her narrative.  Its integrity, a single thought, runs through the pages like a meadow brook, quiet, clear and with purpose.  Her mastery exemplified, she writes a string of poetic ifs, important elements in Henri's life, leading readers to the singular outcomes.  It's so beautiful I keep reading it over and over.

Upon opening the dust jacket we see a single illustration conceived by Hadley Hooper.  On the front, through an open doorway boy Henri is watching his pigeons outside in the yard.  On the left, the back, a grown-up Henri is seated in a chair sketching outside another open doorway.  It's a lovely picture capturing the focus of the writing.  The red pigeon legs, the red chair in which Henri is seated and the red box for the title mirror those splashes of color from Henri's life.  On the title page, a pale dusty green background highlights the fonts and Henri walking with three pigeons following behind him.

All of the visuals extend across two pages in splendid, textured varied perspectives.  Easy but explicit lines define all the parts of each illustration.  We see Henri walking through the darkened streets of his town, hanging plates as his mother paints, taking delight in mixing the paints, arranging fruits and flowers, watching the fabric weavers and tending and watching his pigeons.  When the text shifts to the masterpieces created by the older Henri, Hooper places the young Henri in each of those pictures watching.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Henri feeding his pigeons.  Shades of blue and green with some red dominate this picture.  A smiling Henri is holding a dish to one of three pigeons on the roof of the dovecote, as two others inside look at him.  Noticeable in this visual, in all of them, is the cheerfulness of Henri.  Each is as uplifting as the narrative.

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse written by Patricia MacLachlan with pictures by Hadley Hooper is a breathtaking look at the artist's life.  In words and illustrations with impeccable pacing, readers come to understand the value each aspect of our childhood plays in shaping us as adults.  This is a tribute to the artistic brilliance of Henri Matisse who lived his art and then shared it with the world. An author's note, an illustrator's note and a selected bibliography are included.

For more information about Hadley Hooper and her work please follow the link embedded in her name taking you to her website.  Eight images from the book are available for your viewing at the publisher's website.  This title is set to be released on October 14, 2014.  Don't miss it! UPDATE: Check out this interview of Hadley Hooper at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosted by Julie Danielson on September 30, 2014.

This review/recommendation is based upon an Advance Reader's Edition which I received from my favorite independent book store, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan.

Please spend some time at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by Alyson Beecher to see what other outstanding nonfiction titles have been listed by bloggers participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. This book sounds absolutely exquisite in every way. Loved your review. :)

    1. I truly love how Patricia MacLachlan writes but this is stunning. Hadley Hooper's illustrations are gorgeous. I would love to see the originals.

  2. It's on my list, and can't wait. Since I love MacLachlan's work, and Matisse is a favorite, too, I think I will love every page. Your review made me want October to come soon! My birthday is just a couple of days earlier, maybe a birthday gift to myself? Thank you!

    1. I'm glad it's on your list Linda. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed. I'm thinking it will make the perfect birthday gift. You are very welcome.

  3. Looks just gorgeous. Your review enchanted me! Now want to look for this book asap

    1. Knowing how much art is a part of your classroom, Carrie, I know you and your students are going to love this book.

  4. Sounds like a book to savor. Will have to find it soonest!

    1. It truly is Myra. I hope you can get a copy as soon as it is released.