Inspired by Rousseau’s painting of the same name, Gerstein imagines a dream that provoked the artist to create it.
It’s unfortunate that a different book title highlighting the dream conceit, rather than reiterating the painting title’s problematic use of “gypsy,” wasn’t used. A prologue includes a black-and-white drawing of a child looking at the painting and explicitly says, “this book suggests some of the answers” to possible questions prompted by the mysterious scene. Although she appears neither childlike nor small, the text refers to the sleeping person as “a girl” and identifies her as a figure in Rousseau’s dream. Instead of answering questions that would put her story at the center (Why is she walking through the desert? What is her name? Where is she going?), the text and art introduce animals (including the lion that looms over the figure in the painting) that enter Rousseau’s dream and speculate about her. Then Rousseau enters his own dream, announcing that both girl and animals are there "so that I may paint a picture," which reinforces her marginalization. When Rousseau himself awakens, he, of course, paints his dream—minus all the animals but the lion, as they become so contentious he omits them. Gerstein ably captures the dreaminess of both his subject and the story, but although the participation of the animals is a child-friendly device, it serves to distract readers from the unanswered questions about the title character.
A whimsical artistic meditation that perhaps needed more time on the drawing board. (Picture book. 5-8)