Moishe Shagal leaves his home in Belarus and grows up to become acclaimed artist Marc Chagall.
Little Moishe looks through his window in the city of Vitebsk and sees a warm and bustling patchwork of people: “Neighbors squabble, rabbis bless, a bowlegged fiddler plays on a rooftop.” The unremarkable theme of looking through a window continues from childhood to prime of life to old age, through political turmoil and danger. But despite the tepid window-gazing motif, Rosenstock’s prose shines, from alliteration (“poets peeling pears, Cubists clinking cups”) to keen evocation (“Two-faced slivers of St. Petersburg, glittering city of czars and princes”) to fond, appropriately fanciful artwork descriptions (“A misty woman on a parti-colored rooster. Frilly acrobats tumble in the sky”). Grandpré’s illustrations, acrylic paint on board, feature plenty of recognizable Chagall images and content but lack Chagall-like vibes: The figures and compositions are too concrete, not dreamlike, and the stained glass isn’t crisp. Bizarrely, Chagall’s Judaism goes unmentioned until the author’s note, which means that anti-Semitism is missing too. Judaism’s hardly irrelevant to a name-change from Moishe Shagal to Marc Chagall, but the text praises his new name as “French, elegant, light as pâtisserie.” Even his flight from occupied France for the United States during World War II summons no reference to Judaism. Rabbis mentioned once in Vitebsk and once in later paintings don’t make up for it.
Despite sparkling prose, look elsewhere. (author’s note, art reproductions, sources) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)