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The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

Title: The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau
Author: Michelle Markel
Illustrator: Amanda Hall
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Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0-8028-5364-6
Year: 2012
Concepts: Goods/Services, Scarcity, Wants/Needs
jobs, careers, goods/services, scarcity, wants/needs
Review: The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau tells the story of how a 41-year-old man with no training in the arts took a paintbrush to canvas one day and eventually achieved worldwide fame for his paintings. Designed to introduce elementary school-age children to this famous artist, this picture book also contains a wealth of information related to economics education. First and foremost, children will learn about the difference between a vocation and a paycheck. While Rousseau loved to paint and increasingly turned this sometime hobby into a full-time endeavor, he rarely earned money from his art and needed to turn to other work to pay his bills. Despite his passion for paintings, Rousseau also collected tolls and gave music lessons to help eke out a living. Nonetheless, Rousseau was often barely scraping by and the book depicts the scarcity of resources available to the struggling artist. Forced to make tough decisions, Rousseau is depicted as spending more of his limited salary on art supplies than food. But despite all the hardships he faced – monetary as well as the harsh judgments of critics toward his art – Rousseau plunged forward with his dive into the art world. Eventually, his work became more accepted and praised. Although he received far more recognition for his art after his death, The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau includes the honors he received toward the end of life, providing an inspirational tale for children about perseverance in the face of adversity and criticism. An author’s note at the end of the book also explains some of his later fame and influence on modern art.
This book itself is a work of art, with lush prose and illustrations worthy of Rousseau. Markel uses simple enough language to be understood by young children but often has a poetic twist to her turn of phrase, with lines such as “His heart floats like a hot-air balloon above the fields” capturing the child-like naivety and exuberance of Rousseau’s own work. Hall’s illustrations are intentionally meant to mimic Rousseau’s style to some degree and are thus bright explosions of color with relatively flat persons populating scenic backgrounds. Hall notes that she “decided to break the rules of scale and perspective to reflect his unusual way of seeing the world;” for instance, she imaginatively depicts a diminutive Rousseau carrying his paintings to a professional art exhibit for the first time and being confronted by monstrously large officials and critics at the door. Other surrealistic images populate the book to help illustrate Rousseau’s creative mind and inner eye. The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau is a wonderful biographical introduction to this artist for children’s edification and enjoyment, as well as a great “teachable moment”
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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