The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse, by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper, caught me by complete surprise. While perusing the new children’s books at our local library, the cover caught my eye — a boy on his belly in the grass, half hidden by the trunk of a tree, smiling upon some pigeons hopping around before an open doorway. But it was only after we had returned home that I picked it up to examine it more closely, and realized what a gem of a book we had been lucky enough to find.
Written in the style of one long sentence drawn out over the course of the entire book, the story asks the hypothetical question “Is it any wonder…” building piece upon piece of Matisse’s childhood to reveal the inspiration and beauty around him — his mother painting plates and hanging red rugs on the walls, his raising pigeons whose feathers were iridescent with color, the beautiful silks woven in his town that he would walk past.
Open the book to be met first with a drab scene from “a dreary town in northern France where the skies were gray,” but continue to turn the pages and you will find the exact colors Matisse is known for in his paintings — the many beautiful shades of greens and blues, bold oranges and reds, warm ochre and tangerine. The transformation is subtle but effective, eye-catching to a child, meaningful to a parent familiar with Matisse’s work.
The book is beautiful to behold, and there is a tender message under the story. As Matisse’s mother allows him to mix her paints and arrange the fruit and flowers she had brought from the market, an undercurrent of inspiration becomes clear — that what our children experience on a day-to-day basis can become, some day, the very thing they draw upon to create beauty as adults. This book is more than an introduction to art history for children, it is an important reminder that childhood, however fleeting, can inspire greatness.
Lauren Knight blogs at Crumb Bums.
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