In what has to be the best-named picture book of the year, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan brings readers the story of the young Henri Matisse and his childhood inspirations, with eye-catching illustrations from Hadley Hooper.
There are any number of ways MacLachlan could have described the creativity surrounding the boy Matisse, but the manner she chooses is thoroughly engaging. The text is essentially one very long conditional sentence: “If you were a boy named Henri Matisse . . .” It’s an inviting way to bring to life the creative presences of his childhood, while also prompting children to ponder the inspiration in their own lives.
Matisse was born into a “dreary town in northern France where the skies were gray / And the days were cold.” He longed for color and light and sun. Here, Hooper brings us lots of grays and shadows. On the next spread, it’s as if a light has been turned on and cast through a prism, as Matisse’s mother brought life and color to his world. She painted plates; she put out paints for mixing; and she let the boy arrange fruits and flowers. In this way, the book is not only a celebration of color and art and everyday objects that bring inspiration, but ultimately a celebration of motherhood. And it’s simply resplendent: the writing; Hooper’s relief prints, which reflect the varied and intriguing patterns, textures, shapes, colors and layers Matisse’s mother brought to his life; and the way the art and words work together to tell this tale.
Closing author and illustrator notes are followed by suggested reading for those who want to learn more. Well crafted on every level, this is one of the year’s most beautiful books.
This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.