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Art Appreciation for Children
The Magical Garden of Claude Monet is one of the 'Anholt's Artists' series of books by UK based author/illustrator, Laurence Anholt, in which he introduces children to the great artists through an inspirational, engaging story. Other books in this series include Degas and the Little Dancer, Leonardo and the Flying Boy and Picasso and the girl with a Ponytail. The Magical Garden of Claude Monet is recommended for children aged 4-8 years. Because of its simple storyline and eye catching illustrations, it can be read to very young children. Its calm, dream-like quality makes it a relaxing, soothing book to look at, so it is ideal for a bedtime story to help your child unwind. Slightly older children, capable of reading independently, will appreciate the blend of fact and fiction. They can still enjoy the charming story but also gain an insight into the works of a great Impressionist painter. My daughter found this very useful when she was learning about the Impressionist painters at junior school. The gentle style of the book meant she could pick up useful information about the artist's life and interests in a relaxed way, more so than with a formal text book. This book managed to enchant and educate her at the same time, which is no mean feat.
What is the story about?
This story is about a little girl called Julie, who lives in the city of Paris and longs for a garden to play in. One day her artist mother takes Julie and her pet greyhound, Louey, by train to visit an old friend, Claude Monet who has "the most wonderful garden in the world." Monet takes the little girl on a guided tour of his magical garden and the delightful, dreamy illustrations convey Julie's sense of wonder as she takes in the beauty of her surroundings. When we reach the end of this book, there is a very useful biography about Monet. One of the things it tells us is that Julie is based on a real person, a young girl called Julie Manet, who was the daughter of an artist friend of Monet, Berthe Morisot. My daughter was impressed to learn that the story was based on a real encounter. I think it was a nice touch to only reveal this to us at the end of the book because it provided an element of surprise.
"Floating in Mr Monet's paintings."
The story allows children to take a wonderful imaginary trip to Monet's pink and green house in Giverny and to explore the amazing water gardens, which inspired much of his later work. Anholt's vibrant illustrations are clearly inspired by Monet's painting style and throughout the book he reproduces some of Monet's famous works and incorporates his own illustrations into them. For instance, when we see Monet and Julie walking along a shady path to find Julie's lost dog, their figures have been inserted into a reproduction of Monet's The Rose Path at Giverny. On the front cover, Anholt's picture of Monet, Julie and the dog in a rowing boat has been incorporated into Monet's The Japanese Bridge. The most beautiful of all, however, is the fold out panorama of Water Lilies: Morning, where Anholt has added Julie, Monet and the dog, rowing across the lily pond. "It felt like floating in Mr Monet's paintings," declares Julie and there is certainly something surreal about Anholt's use of a picture within a picture. It brings Monet's art to life in a wonderful way, making children really feel as if they are exploring the paintings, stepping into them and looking around. They can imagine what it feels like to be in the middle of a lily pond. They can imagine the movement of the boat, dipping their hands in the cool water and the warmth of the sunlight on their skin. They can imagine reaching over the side of the boat to pluck a lily from the water, as Monet does. This would be the perfect book for visualisation exercises, leading to deep relaxation, a great way to release stress.
The book captures Monet's love of nature and helps children to understand his passion for his garden and how it inspired his creativity. (We learn in the biography section that Monet loved his garden so much that he refused to leave it, even during World War 1 when the fighting was going on close to his home.)
What I love about this book is the way that it evokes all the senses. Not only is it a visual treat, with its glorious illustrations and gorgeous descriptions of lilies sparkling on the water like stars in a midnight sky, but other senses are heightened in the magical garden. For instance, Julie describes the splashing of oars, the sound of birds calling and the sweet scents of the flowers. It really encourages children to delight in the natural world and to use all their senses to appreciate it.
One slight criticism I have is that I wish there had been more information on Monet's painting technique. We don't actually see him painting, although we see samples of his finished work. I think it would have been helpful to children if there had been a scene where Monet talks to Julie about his painting methods, demonstrating to her the use of small, quick brush strokes, for instance. Maybe Julie could have had a go at painting something too. I think this would have encouraged children to experiment with the different techniques in their own artwork. However, much can be learned by simply looking at the pictures in the book. Children can look at the intermingling colours and see which individual colours they can pick out. They can be asked whether they think a picture looks sunny or shady, whether they can spot reflections on the water, shadows etc. Just helping them to notice different light and colour effects will set them on the road to recognising the basic hallmarks of the Impressionist style.
I think this book is a great way to stimulate a child's imagination and creativity. It can lead to lots of discussion. Children could be asked to describe what they would have in their own special garden. What would they like to see, hear, smell and touch? Children can be encouraged to paint, draw, write about it or start a gardening project of their own. My daughter wrote some lovely poems on the secret garden theme.
Louey the dog adds a welcome comic aspect to the book, preventing it becoming too serious and quickening the pace of the story with his exuberant behaviour. Without him I think this book might have been a bit languid for some children's tastes. He is mischievous and lively, wriggling through a hole in the gate and getting lost in the garden, then walking over Monet's paintings and getting paint on his nose and paws. Later we see him helping himself to food from the table in the yellow dining room. He is a great character who creates a fair bit of havoc and I'm sure most children will love him for this, as my daughter did. It was interesting to learn that the real Julie also had a pet greyhound, a gift from Renoir!
Would I recommend this book?
Yes. I would heartily recommend this book for your child's collection. You are never too young to start appreciating the works of the great artists. Adults and children will love looking at this book together. I think it sends out some positive messages too. In one section Monet talks to Julie about the need to work hard and be patient, comparing the creation of a painting to growing seedlings into big flowers. Later on, when Monet expresses doubts that he will ever achieve his goal to paint the most enormous water garden in the world, Julie reminds him of this advice to lift his spirits. I liked the sentiment of the book. It isn't overly sugary, but it captures the warmth of the friendship as it develops between the little girl and the elderly artist, showing how children and adults can learn from and be inspired by each other.
After reading this book, my daughter expressed a wish to visit Monet's garden. The biography section informs you that it is an hour by train along the river from Paris and that visitors can explore many of the things Julie saw in the story. I hope to be able to take her one day. It would be wonderful to look down at those sparkling lilies for real! A paperback copy of this book is available new from Amazon for £4.35 plus post and packaging. Signed copies (by the author - not Monet, alas!) can also be purchased from the author's website www.anholt.co.uk for £6.99.
When Julie's dog disappears into a mysterious garden, Julie follows him - and finds herself in a beautiful garden-within-a-garden where the roses grow like splashes of paint and a Japanese bridge bows over a silent pool. There she finds not only her dog, but also Claude Monet. The famous artist introduces her to his work and his garden, giving her encouragement that the young would-be artist will never forget. Set against the romantic, world-famous backdrop of Monet's garden at Giverny, the story is accompanied by reproductions of the artist's most celebrated paintings and a biographical note on Monet.