Books Into the Wild: Artists and Rebels Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Picturebooks about Henri Matisse in “Colourful Dreamer” and “A Bird Or Two” (Part 1 of 2)

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Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2016 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.


As we continue to feature The Untamed, the Mischievous, Artists and Rebels in Literature for September-October, I am glad to find these picturebook biographies on Henri Matisse, one of my favourite artists. This is Part One of Two.

IMG_6706A Bird Or Two: A Story about Henri Matisse

Written and Illustrated by: Bijou Le Tord
Published by: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2008 ISBN: 0802851843 (ISBN13: 9780802851840) 
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

In Le Tord’s Author’s Note found at the beginning of the book, she wrote about how she was deeply influenced by Matisse’s art as a child:

When I was a child my first “picture books” were the beautiful volumes of Matisse’s paintings in my father’s library. For me, Matisse was as familiar and as close as a member of our family, and his work is forever tied to my memories of childhood.


Rather than have a sweeping arc to the story, Le Tord focused on Matisse’s time in Nice, writing lyrical commentaries on Matisse’s colours, lines, and his joyful spirit.


There was enough information for a young reader to know a little bit about Matisse and his works – but not too much that it is way too overwhelming that the reader tunes off. I especially loved this description of Matisse’s art:

made us
with our
the music
he painted
in his

His fragility and delicacy are captured here, as well as his love for sunshine and “a bird or two.” A lovely primer to Matisse’s art.

Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri MatisseIMG_6711

Written by: Marjorie Blain Parker Illustrated by: Holly Berry
Published by: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012 ISBN: 0803737580 (ISBN13: 9780803737587) 
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

In contrast to the first book which is more like a visual commentary on Matisse’s paintings, this one provides more information about the artist’s life from childhood until old age.


Apparently, Henri did not excel either in school or playing the violin. His parents were worried about him, because they felt that he does not have the requisite skills to mind their store, to work hard enough to earn a pretty decent living, and have a stable job.


I especially loved the play in colours here – Henri’s everyday life was depicted to be in mono – drab, unexciting, plain – as compared to his dreams that are filled with life and vibrance. While he ended up studying law and worked as a law clerk – he never felt a sense of fulfilment and joy with what he does.


One could also see the stark contrast between Henri’s life in the lawfirm – as opposed to when he is painting, which he discovered serendipitously when he was hospitalized – possibly a psychosomatic disorder brought about by his unhappiness with his life choices.


The Author’s Note found at the end of the book showed that Matisse discovered painting – what would eventually turn out to be his lifelong passion – when he was twenty. Clearly, it was not a charmed life. He struggled a great deal, add the fact that he seemed to have a weak constitution. Regardless, this is a story that shows how heeding one’s calling in life is never easy, but it fills one with a sense of joy, meaning, and purpose.

Next week, I will be featuring these two other picturebooks that pay homage to Matisse’s art and life – watch out for it!

3 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Picturebooks about Henri Matisse in “Colourful Dreamer” and “A Bird Or Two” (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Myra…this is fabulous! I’ve just taken out several picture books on Van Gogh because I’ve written a picture book manuscript on Joseph Montgolfier and the editor wants to see more of his personal struggles and emotions. I will definitely try to get copies of these books. The illustrations are captivating! What a beautiful way to introduce young children to the world of art.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s amazing how these books take such different approaches to the same subject. The only of of these that I’ve read so far is The Iridescence of Birds, and I can’t wait for your thoughts on it! It’s such a beautiful book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You always find the most interesting illustrated books to spotlight!

    Liked by 1 person

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