In her extensive picture-book–biography oeuvre, Winter has proven to be particularly attuned to selecting the just-right elements of her subjects’ complex lives while making them both accessible to and readily understood by young children.
Here she limns the major biographical details of Matisse’s long life: A French law student recovering and on bed rest after an appendectomy is given a paint set; he discovers his true calling, abandons the law, moves to Paris and embarks on a long career as a member of the Fauvist movement. Many years later, once again bedridden and frail, he begins the final and perhaps most enduring stage of his work. Winter both describes and employs Matisse’s signature, late-career technique of brilliantly colored, hand-painted, cut-paper compositions. She enlivens the simple text with liberal yet judicious quotes from Matisse’s letters and comments from contemporaries. This is a beautifully designed book that will certainly connect with readers, although the closing spreads may be too poetically obscure for the intended school-age audience. Winter writes that at Matisse’s death, “the rainbow of shapes cradled the old artist and carried him into the heavens.” The book’s final question, “Are some of the stars we see at night coming to us from Henri’s scissors?” seems forced.
This soaringly sentimental resolution notwithstanding, the book is a charming introduction to a widely reproduced, child-friendly artist, one that children will assuredly encounter and affirmingly embrace. (author’s note) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)