Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: The Iridescence of Birds

I am so excited to once again be participating in a weekly sharing of amazing nonfiction books that we can use to enhance the learning in our classrooms and our own reading and learning lives. Hurray for #nfpb2015!

This year, at least once a month, I want to try to share how I am using particular texts with my students or what we are reading in the world of nonfiction.

Today, we read the beautiful picture book biography: The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse written by Patricia MacLachlan with illustrations by Hadley Hooper

This book, by the way, is on the Mock Caledcott list I am doing with my class. I think I love the illustrations more with each read.

This title is like one long answer to the book’s first page:

“If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived in a dreary town in northern France where the skies were gray”

It goes on to highlight beautiful images and memories of his childhood home and experiences. Simple. Calm. Subtle. Slowly, we are drawn into the colours, the sensations, the possible perspectives of a young Matisse. This isn’t a story of adult artist. It is about a boy absorbing the beauty of his world.

This title is truly a treasure. Read it over and over and find yourself lulled by the lyrical words and the beautiful hues of Hooper’s illustrations.

I loved this interview with Hadley Hooper on the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. 

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: The Iridescence of Birds There's a Book for That

Before I shared this title with my class, I “read” them the gorgeous wordless title Draw! (another title on our Mock Caledcott list) The author’s note at the back talks about Colón‘s journey to adult artist. The children were intrigued by his long history of drawing and who he counted as influences.


Before sharing The Iridescence of Birds, I posed this question to my students: 

“I wonder where an artist gets his/her inspiration?”

This question mirrors the beginning of MacLachlan‘s author’s note at the back of the book:

“Why do painters paint what they do? Do they paint what they see or what they remember? “

We looked at some images of Matisse’s work and talked about what we noticed.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: The Iridescence of Birds There's a Book for That

Students began to answer the question about where an artist’s inspiration might come from. Their ideas were fairly general:

  • from their childhood
  • from the places and people around them
  • from the time that they lived (we helped with this idea)

After reading the book, I asked the students to think about two questions:

  1. What were specific things that might have influenced Matisse in his later work?
  2. What was the author’s purpose in sharing this story?

We needed to picture walk the book a number of times again and read the text from particular pages so that the students could share specific and not vague answers. I pointed out that yes, his childhood had been an influence, but what specifically had the author and illustrator highlighted? I think this digging deeper past a quick answer is so important. This book in its beautiful simplicity of text, allows us to reread multiple times and focus on the specific details.

Finally, the students came up with this list:

  • the red rooms (floors and walls)
  • the fruit he got to put in bowls
  • the putting flowers into vases
  • there was always a cat
  • the painted plates his Mom made
  • the scenery he thought about or saw when he looked out the window
  • the pigeons – how they moved and what they looked like
  • his experience of mixing paints

They had some interesting comments about the author’s purpose. I love that when we read picture book biographies, they make connections between a particular individual’s story and their own experiences (past, present or future).

“It started off all grey and it gets more colourful. They showed how he changed his “place” himself to be more beautiful.”

“Kids like art. It’s fun. You can be inspired by reading about an artist and his life.”

“They wanted us to learn more about a famous artist.”

“The book was about what inspired Matisse. Maybe we have inspiration all around us too.”

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2015. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!



17 thoughts on “Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: The Iridescence of Birds

  1. I love this book!

    And I love this child’s observation: there was always a cat. Isn’t there always one student or more who is tuned in to those significant details?

  2. Thanks for sharing how you used the book with your students. I think that’s very helpful and I look forward to seeing future posts. I always enjoy getting to peek into your classroom. 🙂

  3. I’ve been meaning to find The Iridiscence of Birds for the longest time. Hopefully I get to borrow it from the library this Sunday! Great discussion questions you shared here dearest Carrie.

  4. Oh yeah, I almost bought John James Audobon’s massive “The Birds of America” from Barnes and Noble last month while we were in San Diego. It was with a great deal of self-restraint that I stopped myself.

  5. This is one book I’ve purchased, Carrie. It is wonderful. I’ve studied Matisse with my older students, and they then create their own ideas of a Matisse from their world. I love the progression of your questioning. It’s so good that they list all those things noticed.

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