[Nonfiction Wednesday] Of Light, Shadows, and Trains in Picturebook Biographies on Monet

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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.

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I am glad to be getting into the heads of known artists and painters through our current reading theme. I love exploring how their minds work and their sources of inspiration.

img_6912Monet Paints A Day

Written by: Julie Danneberg Illustrated by: Caitlin Heimerl
Published by: Charlesbridge, 2012 ISBN: 158089240X (ISBN13: 9781580892407) Literary Awards: Charlotte Zolotow Award Nominee for Highly Commended Title (2013), Colorado Book Award Nominee for Children’s Literature (Finalist) 2013
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This picturebook biography opens with Monet’s letter to Alice, his fiancée, sometime in November 1885. The entire narrative is written from the first person point of view, allowing the reader some access into Monet’s thoughts and emotions.

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The story shows how Monet often has kids bringing his set of materials for him as he prefers to paint light and nature outdoors as he perceived it, at the moment. Interestingly, there are also little anecdotal/factual asides written on the side of the page to differentiate itself from Monet’s supposed voice.

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While there is a detailed Author’s Note at the end of the book, complete with Monet’s painting techniques, it was not clear whether the voice was authentically drawn from Monet’s actual letters to his fiancée or some of the author’s own extrapolations. I was disconcerted throughout as I am unsure whether it was truly Monet speaking or a fictionalized portrayal of his reality.

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Despite this, I enjoyed knowing about Monet’s fierce passion for lighting, the weather, the natural environment – and the way he rendered his impressions through his luminous paints.

Claude Monet: The Painter Who Stopped the Trainsimg_6907

Written by: P. I Maltbie Pictures by: Jos. A. Smith
Published by: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2010 ISBN: 0810989611 (ISBN13: 9780810989610) 
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This picturebook biography focuses on a different aspect of Monet’s creative life, as it showed how he was inspired by his own son to create a series of paintings known as the Gare Saint-Lazare series – trains from Paris!

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Once again, Monet’s fascination with light shone through the narrative. What struck me even more was how he managed to convince the director of the Saint Lazare station to stop the trains for him to capture it in the best light possible.

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I suppose he was truly convincing that even the train’s engineer was asked to shovel coal into the furnace to create those thick clouds of white and grey in his painting. Naturally, a few of the passengers were rightfully miffed by the delay, but no matter, the trains were being captured in Monet’s masterpieces.

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There were just a few things that were a wee bit problematic for me. Apparently, this bit about being inspired by his son’s playing with toy trains was imagined by the author – so I am grateful that there was an Author’s note that elucidated this. However, that was a bit of a downer for me, it would have been nice if it was real. Another issue was Monet’s seeming-obsession about how his critics would respond to his works, so much so that this series was supposedly created to pander to the critics’ tastes and imagined responses – again another aspect that I would have appreciated to read more about in the Author’s Note. I was very pleased, however, by the Illustrator’s Note which included the research and artistic decisions that he has done in creating the art, as well as some of the visual codes he embedded in some of the paintings. Truly fascinating work.

  1. Picture books are such a marvelous way to introduce children to artists! My younger daughter and I read “When Pigasso Met Mootisse” a million times. I remember Jama featured a picture book about Monet — maybe it was The Magical Garden of Claude Monet?

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    1. Oohlala! Thanks, Tabatha. I just reserved When Pigasso met Mootisse from our library! 🙂

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  2. That sounds like a neat book! 😀

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