Review: The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This captivating picture book biography of Rousseau is illustrated in a style very reminiscent of Rosseau’s art work, with flat, bright colors and often lush, dreamlike settings. There was so much I did not know: that Rousseau did not start painting until around age 40 (it’s never too late to follow your dreams!), was self-taught as he could not afford art classes, and critics really did not like/appreciate his work. Around the critics Rousseau is a very small figure — they tower over him, and include two animal-like humans in their midst (a dog and a cat.) Happily, a younger group of artists DID recognize Rousseau’s talent later in his life.

I love how historical figures are included in the illustrations; in the notes the illustrator provides a diagram of “who’s who” — including Picasso, Gertrude & Leo Stein, Alice B. Tolkas, among others. I appreciated the carefully chosen, evocative language as well. For example, in answer to “why” Rousseau began painting:
“Because he loves nature. Because when he strolls through the parks of Paris, it’s like the flowers open their hearts, the trees spread their arms, and the sun is a blushing ruby, all for him.”

The facing page is filled with brilliant orange & red flowers, a round orange sun, and purple hued leaves . . . an interesting color combination. Amanda Hall’s illustrations are watercolor and acrylics. A great introduction to Rousseau for elementary age children.

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Magritte and the art of seeing


Magritte is one of my favorite artists. When I discovered D. B. Johnson’s new book on Magritte a few weeks ago, I was very excited. I remembered Johnson’s picture books about Henry David Thoreau — Henry Builds a Cabin and Henry Hikes to Fitchburg. Magritte’s Marvelous Hat (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) can be used in so many ways . . . to introduce children to Magritte and to get them to look closer at Magritte’s paintings, as Johnson’s illustrations are full of references to Magritte’s works. It would be great for Picture This! our library program that introduces art and illustration to children and has them create books in that style. But first up was a book talk for third graders, so I thought I’d try it. I always include a variety of books, as third graders read at such a wide variety of levels: picture books, non-fiction, short chapter books and longer chapter books. Poetry and informational books.


So I read part of this book aloud, and they loved the clear pages. There are several see-through type pages that are used extremely effectively here (not gimmicky!) The children gasped when the painting lands on Magritte’s face as the egg-shaped artwork “unpaints” itself. I showed them Mike Venezia’s biography of Magritte,magritte

and gave a brief description of the Surrealist movement. We talked about how realistic the objects looked, yet something was wrong (size, location, etc.) One of my favorite comments was in regard to the painting of the man with the apple in place of his face, “It looks like he used Photoshop.” Then I showed them L’Empire des Lumieres (The Dominion of Lights), 1954 and asked them whether it was daytime or nighttime. More lively discussion followed.


I was thrilled that they were actually looking closely!

Later that afternoon I was walking through the library by the art prints — yes, we circulate art prints! And there on the wall was this image. Surely I have seen it before — I walk this way several times a day. But today, this afternoon, I saw. How many things in life are like this . . .  right there in front of you . . . you just have to be able to see them.

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Review: Sleep Like a Tiger

Sleep Like a Tiger
Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Really fine text (and how do you make a bedtime book, a theme so common in children’s books, still seem fresh and new?) and imaginative, compelling illustrations make this picture a complete package. Zagarenski, illustrator of Red Sings from the Treetops, which was one of my favorites, has just the right touch here — a bit of magical realism, with the pictures becoming more dreamlike as the girl falls asleep. I love how the parents don’t argue about her not being sleepy, but just say okay, and give her a bedtime task (putting pj’s on, brushing teeth). I love the patterns of the illustrations (in the wallpaper, the clothing), the stuffed tiger among the animals she sleeps with, the allusions to familiar and not so familiar animals sleeping patterns; the dog is “curled up in a ball on the couch, where he’s not supposed to be” and later she “right where she was supposed to be.” Most of the illustrations have an angular quality, yet the dog and the tiger seem wonderfully soft and textured. Much to appreciate here!

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A Poem to Remember

Make the Earth Your Companion

Make the Earth your companion.

Walk lightly on it, as other creatures do.

Let the Sky paint her beauty- she is always

           watching over you.

Learn from the Sea how to face harsh forces.

Let the River remind you that everything will pass.

Let the Lake instruct you in stillness.

Let the Mountain teach you grandeur.

Make the Woodland your house of peace.

Make the Rainforest your house of hope.

Meet the Wetland on twilight ground.

Save some small piece of Grassland for a red kite

on a windy day.

Watch the Icecaps glisten with crystal majesty.

Hear the Desert whisper hush to eternity.

Let the Town weave a small basket of togetherness,.

Make the Earth your companion.

Walk lightly on it, as other creatures do.

-J. Patrick Lewis


National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 poems with photographs that Squeak, Soar, and Roar! Edited by J. Patrick Lewis (National Geographic, 2012).

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Today’s Weeding Gem

More weeding fun, with Herbert’s Space Trip, from 1965.

What is this mysterious planet Herbert travels to?? In the chapter entitled, “I’ll be Doggoned” Herbert lands on the dog planet.

Pretty quickly, the dogs put Herbert in the zoo:

Soon, however, Herbert is being instructed in the dog language

and teaching them to play baseball.

1965: post-Sputnik, pre-Apollo 11 — what a discovery Herbert has made!

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The Joy of Weeding

Is finding treasures like these:


What discoveries have you made lately??

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Mazza Fall Weekend Conference Lineup

This weekend is the Fall Conference at the Mazza Museum (International Art from Picture Books) in Findlay, Ohio. I’m very excited to be attending! And here is why:

David Macaulay

Erin Stead

Philip Stead

Erin & Philip Stead

David Ezra Stein

Gary D. Schmidt

cover of What Came from the Stars

Jon J. Muth

Mo Willems

How amazing is this???!!!

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November is Picture Book Month!

Here is the display I created for picture book month:

Yes, it’s heavily focused on Caldecott winners, since I have Caldecott on the brain as I’m planning my first mock Caldecott discussion this January. And Chris Raschka’s A Ball for Daisy is right up on top as he led off the discussion of why picture books are important on the Picture Book month website.  Living in Ohio (or Swing State Hell, as Jon Stewart puts it), it’s hard to keep the election off my mind, hence So You Want to be President? is right up there too!

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Playing at the library

Yesterday (November 3) we celebrated International Games Day  @ your library. The indoor hopscotch board was very popular. It was great to see so many children (and adults) trying it out, and stopping to play a game.

It was great to hear a dad explaining how the game of checkers works to his son (if you start on the black squares, you have to stay on the black squares), to see a mom demonstrating how Twister is played to her toddler, to see families engrossed in the game of Life. All in all, a very fun day to be @ the library!

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A library in a lighthouse

We started visitinImageg and climbing lighthouses a few years ago on our annual visit to St. George Island. First at Cape San Blas, then the St. George Lighthouse, and today the Crooked River Light near Carrabelle.

In the keeper’s house museum next to the light (a replica; the original house is nearby but privately owned), there is a library box.

Did you know that there were rotating library boxes in the late 1800s? A small collection of books was kept in a wooden box and these were exchanged on a regular basis. What kind of books did they contain? According to the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy “the books were carefully selected from books of a good standard appropriate to the families who would use them. While largely fiction, other classes of literature were included in reasonable proportions including technical books when requested.” Their website ( gives more details including a list of actual books circulated. The library box I saw wasn’t full, but they re clearly trying to find the original books. I saw the beautiful embossed blue leather cover of A.T. Mahan’s The Gulf and Inland Waters. In the photo below you can see the strikingly decorated cover of Paul Du Chailly’s My Apingi Kingdom: with life in the Great Sahara, and sketches of the chase of the ostrich, hyena, &c.  from 1870.

As a librarian, I appreciated the description of how the process worked:

In 1876 portable libraries were first introduced in the Light-House Establishment and furnished to all light vessels and inaccessible offshore light stations with a selection of reading materials. These libraries were contained in a portable wooden case, each with a printed listing of the contents posted inside the door. Proper arrangements were made for the exchange of these libraries at intervals, and for revision of the contents as books became obsolete in accordance with suggestions obtained from public library authorities.” (Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy).

The life of a lighthouse keeper and  his family could be extremely isolated. I’m fascinated that reading was offered as a means of relief/compensation. What excitement must have accompanied the arrival of a new box! What books would children have looked for among these contents? Mine certainly enjoyed climbing the lighthouse!

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