The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau Reviews

‘Phyllis: The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall, begins with a man who doesn’t fit. He is a forty-year-old toll collector who wants to be an artist. “Not a single person has ever told him he is talented,” but he paints anyway because he loves nature and teaches himself technique by going to the Louvre and examining “the satiny paintings of his favorite artists.”

Jackie: One day he puts his canvases in a handcart and wheels them to an exhibition. It does not go well. Experts say mean things. He keeps painting—pictures of plants and animals from far away places. “Sometimes Henri is so startled by what he paints that he has to open the window to let in some air.” And even though every year he takes his paintings to the exhibit, the experts continue to make fun of him. “They say it looks like he closed his eyes and painted with his feet.”

Phyllis: He keeps painting. “He spends all he earns on art supplies and pays for his bread and coal with landscapes and portraits.” No matter what the experts say, “every morning he wakes up and smiles at his pictures.” Finally, when he is sixty-one, other artists disagree with the experts, befriending Henri and coming to concerts in his studio. Picasso throws a banquet for him. And when Henri exhibits his painting “The Dream,” few people make fun of him.

Jackie: The illustrator made a special trip to Paris before illustrating this book, and it shows. Her paintings capture the wild spirit of Rousseau’s work while still being uniquely her own. In this book, Rousseau started out as a square peg, and his talent reshaped the world.’

—Bookology Children’s Literature/ Jacqueline Briggs Martin & Phyllis Root


“Children’s innate fairness will have them rooting for Henri Rousseau, who was often critically reviled yet eventually succeeded. Told in present tense, this lyrical tale is a cheerful introduction to an artist who “starts painting” at age 40. Gorgeous watercolor-and-acrylic paintings, excellent versions of Rousseau’s own, are filled with delightful details to savor.”

—School Library Journal/ Carol Goldman Link


“I was instantly taken with The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau (public library| IndieBound) by writer Michelle Markel and illustrator Amanda Hall not only because I have a soft spot for beautifully illustrated biographies that introduce young readers to inspiring cultural icons — such as those of Pablo Neruda, Julia Child, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Maria Merian, and Jane Goodall — but also because it tells an emboldening real-life story, and a stunningly illustrated one, of remarkable resilience and optimism in the face of public criticism, of cultivating a center so solid and a creative vision so unflinching that no outside attack can demolish it and obstruct its transmutation into greatness.”

— Maria Popova Link


“Hall’s evocation of Rousseau’s lush jungles captures the artist’s child-friendly work; Markel’s text is both accessible and likely to awe.”

—New York Times Link


”Rousseau’s spirit has inspired Amanda Hall: this book is a captivating homage to a lavish, playful, painterly world… Meanwhile, Markel tells his story, and lets us know how art eventually won out against establishment ridicule. – this book is the freshest of breezes.”

—The Observer/ Kate Kellaway Link


“It’s a story about a painter who isn’t driven by an enormous ego or a Promethean will but the simple love of color and form in nature — a love that Hall excels at expressing.”

—Publishers Weekly * Starred Review Link


“Markel’s text has a sweetness and simplicity that allows children to understand the story’s underpinnings, giving them someone to root for. Initially, though, they’ll be drawn by Hall’s rich pictures, sometimes offered with a sly wink, which are a credible homage to Rousseau’s naive style. Kids will get a sense of the colors and vibrancy of the originals as well as their strength.”

—Booklist/ Ilene Cooper Starred Review 


“The interesting thing about Hall’s take on Rousseau is that while, yes, she plays around with scale and perspective willy-nilly, she also injects a fair amount of whimsy. Not just the usual artist-flying-through-the-air-to-represent-his-mental-journey type of stuff either…. It’s the weirdness that sets this book apart and makes it better than much of its ilk. It’s refreshing to encounter a bio that isn’t afraid to make things odd if it has to. And for some reason that I just can’t define . . . it definitely has to …Hall has handed teachers a marvellous tool. You could spend quite a lot of time flipping between the paintings here and the ones Rousseau actually created……….. A combination of smart writing and smarter art is ideal, particularly when you’re dealing with picture book biographies. And The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau is nothing if not smart. It typifies the kind of bios I hope we see more of in the future.”

School Library Journal/ Elizabeth Bird * Starred Review Link


“Spare and simple, Michelle Markel’s text invites readers in; Amanda Hall’s illustrations, eminently evocative of Rousseau’s work, gets them hooked. Together, author and illustrator coax and capture readers with this thoroughly enchanting story of the much beloved Henri Rousseau.”

—Parents’ Choice Awards/ Picture Book


“The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall, is gorgeously illustrated and beautifully told… Illustrator Hall provides the young reader with a stunning and captivating re-creation of Rousseau’s 1897 painting, The Sleeping Gypsy, currently housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York…The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall, will delight children ages 5-9 including its outstanding cover showing Rousseau stretched out on ared couch in the middle of a dream jungle”

—The Children’s Bookshelf/ Sue Ann Martin (podcast available on iTunes. #218 in the list) Link


“This is not only a visually exciting introduction to a well-known artist, but also an uplifting model of passion and perseverance.”

—DC Public Library/ Wendy Lukehart Washington


“Markel’s simple, poetic text . . . is matched with Hall’s vivid, venturesome illustrations. The bright watercolor and acrylic paintings have an impressive vitality and wonderfully channel Rousseau’s fantastic motifs…This lovely, child-friendly biography evokes and celebrates this fabulous naif.”

—Kirkus Reviews 


“The career of artist Henri Rousseau gets a wonderfully child-friendly treatment in this picture book that captures both his personality and the essence of his naive-style paintings.”

—Booklist Online


“Amanda Hall’s rich watercolor and acrylic illustrations honor the unique style and perspective of Rousseau, portraying actual events and acquaintances of the artist. This would be an excellent addition to a school or home library and would certainly enhance an elementary-level art history lesson.”

—Christian Library Journal/ Nina Ditmar


“Michelle Markel’s vivid text, complemented by the vibrant illustrations of Amanda Hall, artfully introduces young readers to the beloved painter and encourages all readers to persevere despite all odds.”

Barnes and Noble/ Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz Link


“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.” 

—Richie’s Picks/ Richie Partinton


“The illustrations are similarly inspiring, done in Rousseau’s style–lush, bold and playful.”

—Noodling with Words / Wendy Greenley Link


Michelle Markel’s words, paired with bright colours and the bold stokes of Amanda Hall’s illustrations, draw readers into the story of Rousseau”

—Congregational Libraries Today/ Caroline Egolf


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 … 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”.

—Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children


“This striking picture book is a biography of the artist, Henri Rousseau… Markel has chosen to write this book in the present tense and also to call Rousseau by his first name throughout.  Both of these make the book feel welcoming and immediate… Hall’s art pays beautiful homage to Rousseau’s own work.  Reading her Illustrator’s Note, one finds that she has changed her medium for this book, using watercolor and acrylics to achieve Rousseau’s characteristic look and feel.  She also used some of his original work as direct inspiration, adding his breaking of scale and perspective rules as well.

This is a superb picture book biography of an artist who came late to finding his passion in life.  Both his life and work are inspirations for children and adults to dream big and ignore the critics. Appropriate for ages 6-9.”

Waking Brain Cells (Blog) Link


“Michelle Markel The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau. Illustrated by Amanda Hall. Published spring 2012. Markel’s informative text conveys self-taught modern artist Henri Rousseau’s groundbreaking flat perspective, inspiration by faraway lands, and determined personality, as well as interesting details such as his place in a circle of Modernist artists and writers. Hall’s lush watercolor and acrylic art bears a clear resemblance to Rousseau’s. This successful tribute makes Rousseau accessible, and inspirational, to a young audience.”

Horn Book Guide