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[Nonfiction Wednesday] Fantasy As One’s Best Teacher in “The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau”

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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.

This week, I am happy to finally share this picturebook biography of Henri Rousseau who learned how to paint through his own fantastical imaginings.


The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

Written by: Michelle Markel
Illustrated by: Amanda Hall
Published by: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2012 Book Awards: PEN/Steven Kroll Award (2013)
ISBN: 0802853641
ISBN-13: 9780802853646 Bought personal copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I am not very familiar with Henri Rousseau, but this picturebook biography has transformed me into a fan. Unlike other privileged artists who were trained by the best mentors and teachers from childhood, Henri Rousseau learned how to paint when he was forty. He was a toll collector.


If there was anything that I learned from Rousseau’s life, it is that one’s fantastical eye and a great deal of grit and forbearance have the power to transform a toll collector into an artist. The thing is, Rousseau did not really have it easy in the beginning.


The critics were merciless and often disparaging. But Rousseau was singularly determined to share his art with the rest of the world:

Sometimes Henri is so startled by what he paints that he has to open the window to let in some air.


I particularly enjoyed both the Author’s and Illustrator’s Notes who wrote about what it is about Rousseau that they found fascinating. While Rousseau’s life ended quite tragically, with his dying from gangrene and being buried in a pauper’s grave, the picturebook ended in a more hopeful note with Picasso’s banquet for Henri where he sat “upon a makeshift throne” showing how he was eventually recognized and respected by fellow artists.


For teachers who wish to use this in the classroom, you may want to check out this weblink which includes quite a number of lesson ideas (from elementary to middleschool) to introduce Rousseau’s art in the classroom.

Here is a lovely book trailer created by the publisher that is worth checking out. Have fun!

6 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Fantasy As One’s Best Teacher in “The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau”

  1. Rousseau died of gangrene? How horrible! I like the look of the book and look forward to checking out the trailer.


  2. annettepimentel

    I love the illustration of him, so tiny, toiling along past a phalanx of critics.


  3. It’s good to read the stories of those who find their passion and press on no matter the negative surrounding them. Thanks, Myra.


  4. Really enjoyed this book. Very inspiring. I’m not a huge fan of his art, but this pb helped me admire the artist:>)


  5. I do love this one, it has such a surreal, almost dreamlike feeling to it, and such an inspiring story.


  6. Pingback: [Monday Reading] Of Imaginary Creatures that Come Alive In The Night in “Henry & Leo” and “The Sleeping Gypsy” – Gathering Books

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