Beauty, Art, Music in Literature Books Early Readers Features Genre Lifespan of a Reader Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Poetry Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Poetic How-To On Painting A Bird’s Portrait

Translated and Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein - original poem by Jacques Prévert.

Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2018 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

Originally written by French poet Jacques Prévert, the poem has been transformed and illuminated by the unparalleled Mordicai Gerstein in this picturebook containing poetic instructions on how to paint the portrait of a bird.


How To Paint The Portrait Of A Bird

Poem by Jacques Prévert Illustration and Translation by Mordicai Gerstein
Published by Roaring Brook Press (2007, poem originally published in Paris in 1949).
ISBN: 1596432152 (ISBN13: 9781596432154)
Borrowed through inter-library loan. Book photos taken by me.

The first few pages of the book were wordless framed panels showing a young boy sleeping through the night and waking up to a bright morning with a bird singing outside his window. I like the quiet of those pages, suggestive of a young boy’s consciousness gradually filling up with joyful music and the sight of something fleeting, bright, and beautiful just within one’s grasp, like a thousand blessings.

It is no wonder that he endeavoured to capture it – before it is gone. According to Prévert’s poem one needs to begin with a cage with an open door.

The idea is to create something that would allow that elusive beauty to come just a tiny bit closer, pay attention, and step into one’s art.

I also appreciated how patience is shown to be a unique and important trait that an artist should possess. It is not so much the skill or the technique, but the attitude and disposition of watching and waiting, seeing and capturing through the heart’s eye.

I did read a Goodreads review that indicated how Gerstein has taken liberties in his translation of the poem, softening the judgment that was originally intended in the poem to refer to a bad painting – with a comforting word instead to the young reader about the efforts of trying one’s best, which was not found in the original poem. I found this to be a valid point. However, it could also be the publisher or the editor’s inputs or recommendations rather than just Gerstein’s decision to frame the failure to create a beautiful painting – just a tad differently. Regardless, I think it will make for a lovely discussion, especially among older readers and aspiring young artists.

This book also reminded me of a poem from Mary Oliver’s A Thousand MorningsHere it is. Enjoy!


#LitWorld2018GB Update: Mordicai Gerstein is from the US | Jacques Prévert was from France.

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2 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] A Poetic How-To On Painting A Bird’s Portrait

  1. Fascinating! The illustrations are lovely and your pairing of the book with Mary Oliver is heart-lifting. *happy sigh*

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never seen this book, Myra. Thank you for sharing it, the ‘outside’ thoughts & Oliver’s poem.

    Liked by 1 person

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