Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

“Walking through forests of palm tree apartments Scoff at the monkeys who live in their dark tents Down by the waterhole, drunk every Friday Eating their nuts, saving their raisins for Sunday Lions and tigers who wait in the shadows They’re fast but they're lazy, and sleep in green meadows” -- “Bungle in the Jungle” by Ian Anderson (recorded in Henri Rousseau’s city of Paris)

“One day Henri reads about a big art exhibition. He puts his canvases in a handcart and wheels them to the building where the show will be held. He’ s forty-one years old, and this is the very first time he’ll display his work! He can hardly wait to hear what the experts will say. “Mean things. That’s what most of them write. But Henri snips out the articles anyway, and pastes them in a scrapbook.”

There are all sorts of examples that come to mind about those who faced setbacks or were ridiculed for their attempts to do something different. I’m sitting here thinking of John Glenn’s scathing testimony about how ridiculous it would be to have women in space (which is quoted in Tanya Lee Stone’ s ALMOST ASTRONAUTS). And I’m thinking about Peggy Seeger’s feminist story song “I’m Gonna Be an Engineer.” And how they laughed at Dumbo – until he did get off the ground. And I’m thinking about how Steven Spielberg applied three times for admission to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts – and was rejected all three times. And how Dr. Seuss’s first book, AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET was rejected twenty-seven times before he finally found a publisher for it.

I’ve actually had dinner with one of the twelve British editors who turned down the first Harry Potter manuscript before the author finally sold it to Bloomsbury. I’m sitting here thinking about how I’ve been rejected and/or laughed at more times than I have fingers and toes. And that’s just this year!

THE FANTASTIC JUNGLES OF HENRI ROUSSEAU begins when Henri is a forty year-old toll collector who decides he wants to be an artist. He has the audacity to just go for it, buying himself canvas, paint, and brushes, taking a close look at some plants and animals, and then just starting to paint. For all that THE FANTASTIC JUNGLES OF HENRI ROUSSEAU is, in fact, an outstanding picture book biography about France’s famous artist, I see this far more importantly being a story of believing in one’s self and just ignoring those who would keep you in your little box, keep you on the ground. My gosh! This guy is a friggin’ toll collector. Who does he presume to think he is, trying to paint without lessons and without coming up through the old boys network. You can just imagine those snooty Paris dudes telling him, “Hey, don’t quit your day job, buddy!”

We don’t get to see Henri as a child. But I am betting that there was someone there who taught the kid to believe in himself. Or he was lucky and encountered someone who modeled this sort of behavior. “We-de-de-de De-de-de-de-de We-um-um-a-way A-wimoweh, a-wimoweh A-wimoweh, a-wimoweh A-wimoweh, a-wimoweh” --“The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” written in the 1920s by Solomon Linda The illustrations, which are based on Henri Rousseau’s art, are a total kick. I love the bold tones of the jungle flowers and the whimsical nature of the visual story. I adore the absolutely killer spread of a lion at night, standing over the dreaming artist, the full moon winking overhead. Encouraging young people to follow their own bliss can really make a big difference in their lives. This wonderful picture book provides a great example of one guy who found the key to doing just that.

36p., ISBN: 978-0-8028-5364-6

Recommended by: Richie Partington, Librarian, California USA Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_

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