THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS, A Book About Henri Matisse – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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matisseTitle: The Iridescence of Birds – A Book About Henri Matisse

Written by: Patricia MacLachlan

Illustrated by: Hadley Hooper

Published by: A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Book Press, 2014

Themes/Topics: Henri Matisse, painters, the influence of childhood, France

Suitable for ages: 5-11

40 pages, biography


If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived in a dreary town in northern France where the skies were grey…….


A book about the young Henri Matisse and what inspired him to create the vivid art for which he is known. Patricia MacLachlan describes how a small boy in northern France would want to fill his gray world with color. He is inspired and encouraged by his artistic mother and colors of: red rugs on the floors and walls, plates painted by his mother and meadows, trees, rivers and birds. The text is mainly one long ‘what if’ question, and the language is accessible to young children. The author even trusts young readers with the beauty and complexity of phrases like, “the iridescence of birds!”

Why I like This Book:

As Joy Chu said, ‘This is a portable art gallery of sheer delight with pitch perfect text.’ As a huge Matisse fan from living over a decade in Nice within walking distance of the fabulous Matisse art gallery there, I can say that the reproductive style here by Hadley Hooper is unreal in its realism! The text has the wishful, curious optimism of childhood and paints in words a persuasive possibility of the childhood shapes, shades, textures and colors that later influenced the many Matisse masterpieces. This is the same author that brought Sarah, Plain and Tall to us, in case you were wondering. I confess I thought this might have been a Caldecott contender.


My Mother loved everything I did.

This is a fascinating look at the childhood influences on one artist in particular. Patricia MacClachlan takes a paragraph at the end of the book to explore why painters paint what they do. Hadley Hooper discusses the artistic immersion she underwent to do the illustrations, “I researched and imagined the patterns he might have seen growing up in the textile town of Bohain-en-Vermandois. Using Google maps I was able to piece together what his street and childhood home looked like. I thought about his work just before sleep and, as the deadline approached, as soon as I woke up. It was a total immersion and a total luxury.” 


This is the opening ‘gray’ scene taken from Hadley Hooper’s website

Artist biographies are on perennial demand in most primary schools, and this is an absolute must to add to those shelves.

There are many other picture books for further reading on Henri Matisse:

  • Matisse, Dance for Joy by Susan and Rubin Goldman
  • A Bird or Two: A Story about Henri Matisse by Bijou le Tord
  • Henri Matisse: Artists in their Time by Judy Welton
  • Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors by Keesia Johnson and Jane O’Connor


Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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6 Responses to THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS, A Book About Henri Matisse – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. I love Patricia MacLachlan’s books, and am glad to see that she also writes PB biographies for kids. I am familiar with Matisse’s work, but haven’t read anything about his life. Lucky you living so close to the Matisse art gallery in Nice. This book intrigues me. I love biographies about artists.

  2. I think this book is beautiful and well done. I was so surprised it got little love from the awards committees this year! Glad you made it a PPBF.

  3. rhythm says:

    That Ms MacLachlan can sure spin a fine tale! This one looks quite lovely!! And you do a fine job with words yourself!! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I loved this book. I’m surprised to see so many other kids books on Matisse. My son tried to do a report on Boticelli once and we could only find one book on him. Guess Matisse is a lot more popular, inexplicably. 🙂

  5. Gorgeous book! I would like to know how a child reacts to it too!

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