A painter who never gave up on his dream is the subject of the picture book biography The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall. Making a living as a toll collector, Rousseau was restless. As much as he enjoyed his time spent in Parisian parks, he wanted to capture the beauty of nature he witnessed onto canvas. At the age of forty, he made his first attempts to paint the scenes he imagined.
Self-taught as an artist, Rousseau ventured into natural history museums and studied books and photographs to make his botanical and zoological paintings accurate. When he had enough paintings completed, he entered them into competitions. His "naïve" style, however, was met with the jeers of so-called expert art critics. Year after year, his paintings brought unintentional amusement to the establishment who found his paintings flat and simple. But decades later, attitudes on art had changed, and Picasso and other well-known artists led a re-evaluation and celebration of Rousseau’s work.
While none of Rousseau’s actual paintings are used in this book, Hall’s illustrations (in homage to his work) are astounding. Markel capably introduces the artist to a new audience of young readers who are likely unfamiliar with his work. Readers of this title are certain to remember Rousseau's style when encountering his paintings in the future. The message is clear without being overt – a dream delayed is better than a dream never realized.