A well-meaning picture-book debut features an episode from the life of a 19th-century artist.
Ziarnik’s fascination with Camille Claudel, the pioneering French academic sculptor and protégé of Rodin, led to this brief, stiffly imagined encounter between Claudel and her real-life child-muse, Madeleine Boyer, during a sojourn at Madeleine and her grandmother's country house. This little girl inspired Claudel’s iconic sculpture La Petite Châtelaine (The Little Lady). The determined and beautiful artist sculpts the child while kindly guiding the child’s creation of a little clay bird for her Grand-mère. Though backmatter refers to Claudel’s “passionate temperament,” there is precious little earthiness or intensity here. Dunn’s accompanying art is an awkwardly composed succession of domestic watercolor tableaux that owe more to Disney than Millet. Annoyingly, Dunn depicts the three female characters with coiffures featuring escaping, wispy hair tendrils—presumably a shorthand for their preoccupation with art and housewifely duty. Worse, the closing spread of Claudel’s leave-taking is almost impossible to decode visually: Claudel is actually pressing a lump of clay and sculpting tools into the child’s hands.
Unfortunately this slim slice of Claudel’s life makes for a prim little picture book; both story and art are suffused with greeting-card optimism and sentimental speculation. (Picture book. 5-7)