Sunday, November 23, 2014

How Purpose Shapes Content: Examining Two Books about Matisse

            I recently visited the Museum of Modern Art's (MOMA) exhibition of Henri Matisse’s cut-outs, the brilliant work of his later years. Before going, I remembered reading Jeanette Winter’s gem of a biography for young readers, Henri’s Scissors. And while that book was on sale at MOMA, so too was Samantha Friedman’s book Matisse’s Garden, illustrated by Cristina Amodeo, which I purchased.

            At home, I began to put these two books side-by-side. Together, they clearly show (at least in my mind) how an author’s purpose shapes content—a Common Core emphasis. Samantha Friedman, author of Matisse’s Garden, is Assistant Curator in MOMA’s Department of Drawings and Prints. Her book, which contains 8 reproductions of Matisse’s art and several fabulous, large fold-out illustrations, emphasizes Matisse’s art—the harmony and contrast among the colors. The illustrations, too, are all cut-outs, mirroring Matisse’s artwork. In contrast, Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter, a book that also focuses on Matisse’s cut-outs, covers a longer span of time. This book emphasizes how the process of creating art nourished and sustained Matisse’s spirit throughout his lifetime.

            These differences perhaps reflect Friedman’s work as a museum curator—someone who helps the public understand and appreciate art—and Winter’s work as a biographer—someone who finds meaning within a life story.

            While there are many ways to contrast these two excellent books, a significant question to think about is this: How does the author’s purpose shape the content of the book?



  1. Myra, to that I would add Colorful Dreamer by Marjorie Parker, illustrated by Holly Berry.

  2. Thanks. We are moving towards a bigger text set!