Nonfiction Monday – Getting to Know Artists

matisse.jpg rousseau.jpg

Hello Matisse!: Get to Know Matisse Through Stories, Games and Draw-It-Yourself Fun and Hello Rousseau!: Get to Know Rousseau Through Stories, Games and Draw-It-Yourself Fun both by Catherine de Duve, are engaging translations from the French that offer young readers and budding artists an “inside” look at these men and their works.

Hello Matisse! begins with an introduction to Matisse’s early life and his introduction to art at the age of 21. Home sick in bed for many weeks, his mother provided him with a paint set to make the time go by. This event changed his life. Once he recovered he left his office job and went to art school in Paris. His first painting was a still life that he signed with his name spelled backwards. Nearly 60 years later, he was still painting. The double-page spread entitled Matisse Finds Art shows both of these works. Where de Duve’s books differ from other “art history” type books is in the interactive component that is included in this spread. There is  a blank box with directions above that read:

Arrange some objects in a pattern you like and sketch a still life. Sign it with your own unique artist’s signature.

As the book follows Matisse through his life, de Duve highlights aspects of his style and work. All this is accompanied by directives to readers to create art in the fashion of the artist. Some of the interactive components of this book include:

  • Artists use colors to express emotion. Color this butterfly with colors that make you happy.
  • Create a face with different colors in the style of the Fauves.
  • Look out the window and paint or draw what you see, using simple shapes and playful colors.

In some instances, readers are not asked to draw by rather to search for specific details in a painting.  One of my favorite interactive exercises shows a portion of Harmony in Red (Red Room) alongside the exact same image with no color. Readers are encouraged to imagine the room in a different color, then try it and see.

Hello Rousseau! is written in much the same fashion. It begins with an introduction to the time period. What follows is a brief introduction from the artist in which he talks about his early life. It begins:

Hello! My name is Henri Rousseau. I was born on May 21, 1844 in a small town in France called Laval. I have a brother and three sisters. My father was an artisan and fine metal-worker. I was not a very good student but I loved to draw and make music.

As in the Matisse, book this one is sprinkled with interactive bits such as:

  • Draw a far away place from your dreams.
  • Create your own landscape in the style of Henri Rousseau. Look closely at his forms and colors.
  • Color these leaves with different kinds of green.
  • Make up a story about the wide-eyed tiger.
  • Make up a story about the sleeping musician as you add your own colors to this scene.

Both of these books provide terrific introductions to their subjects and allow readers to analyze and learn about the artists and their art in new ways. I particularly liked the focus on color and painting style, and the way their life histories were interwoven to show how life impacted art.

Overall, I found both books to be highly informative and engaging. One of the features I enjoyed most about the books, the interactive pieces, is also the one I find most problematic. I don’t encourage kids to draw in books, so I’m not sure how this will play in libraries and classrooms. I would love to see kids so excited about art after reading these titles that they just have to pick up paints and create works of their own. I just hope it will be on a canvas or medium other than these fine books.

Book: Hello Matisse!: Get to Know Matisse Through Stories, Games and Draw-It-Yourself Fun
Author/Illustrator:
Catherine de Duve
Publisher:
Birdcage Press
Publication Date:
2008
Pages:
32 pages
Grades:
3-6
ISBN:
978-0873589260
Source of Book:
Review copy received from Raab Associates.

Book: Hello Rousseau!: Get to Know Rousseau Through Stories, Games and Draw-It-Yourself Fun
Author/Illustrator:
Catherine de Duve
Publisher:
Birdcage Press
Publication Date:
2008
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: 3-6
ISBN: 978-0873589260
Source of Book: Review copy received from Raab Associates.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.