Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

Michelle Markel
Illustrator:  Amanda Hall 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2012   ISBN: 978-0802853646

Forty-year-old Henri Rousseau is a toll collector, but what he really wants to be is an artist. Though he has never been told that he has any artistic talent, Rousseau decides that he is going to give painting a try. More than anything he wants to be able to express his love of nature on a canvas.

Henri buys art supplies, and since he cannot afford to pay for art lessons, he decides to “be his own teacher.” He looks at the paintings in the Louvre and he learns anatomy by studying photos and illustrations. When Henri shows his art in an art exhibit, the experts don’t have anything nice to say about his work, but Henri is not discouraged. Instead, he explores Paris looking for ideas and inspiration.

After visiting some exhibits at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, Henri is inspired to paint pictures of “plants and animals from faraway places.” His paintings are full of color, movement, and drama. In the years that follow, Henri enters his paintings in exhibits and every time the art experts criticize his work. Henri does not give up though, and he works hard to learn how to create wonderful paintings featuring plants of all kinds. He goes on to create paintings of jungles full of wild animals, and eventually, when Henri is in his sixties, a few people begin to see the beauty in his art and they appreciate his skill.

Young readers who like to create their own works of art are going to love this wonderful story. The author shows her readers how Henri Rousseau came to become a painter and how he found a style that suited him and made him happy.

Throughout the book Rousseau-style artwork compliments the text, and at the back of the book author and illustrator notes provides readers with more information about the book’s creation and about Rousseau’s life and art.