Cezanne's Parrot

by Amy Guglielmo (Author) Brett Helquist (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

An inspiring picture book biography of the artist Paul Cezanne, the painter who laid the groundwork for modern art and whom Pablo Picasso declared the father of us all.

All Cezanne wants is to be a great painter like his friends Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir. But when he shows his works, the professors, the critics, and the collectors all dismiss him: Too flat! Too much paint! These are rough and unfinished! Even his own pet parrot, Bisou, can't be brought to say, Cezanne is a great painter! And who can blame them? Cezanne doesn't care about tradition, and he doesn't follow the rules. He's painting in a way no one else has done before, creating something completely new--and he's destined to change the world of art forever. Cezanne's Parrot is a spirited celebration of creativity, determination, and perseverance--and the artist who would become known as the father of modern art.

Publishers Weekly

Cézanne, the late 19th-century French painter, has lofty ambitions, and he wants his new parrot Bisou to acknowledge them: "Can you say, 'Cézanne is a great painter'?" he instructs the bird. Cézanne rejects heroic subjects and traditional techniques. "While other artists painted flawless details with tiny brushes... Cézanne preferred thick paint and heavy marks." He's not a fast-working impressionist like his friend Monet, either. Cézanne paints agonizingly slowly, and sometimes he's dissatisfied. At last, though, he gains recognition from the art world--and from his avian companion, too. Helquist (Guitar Genius) illustrates Cézanne's story with boldly outlined and modeled figures in detailed period costume. His versions of Cézanne's own paintings capture the painter's lavish strokes and earthen tones. Spoken remarks--especially gossipy comments about Cézanne's paintings ("Too dark!" "Too crude!")--often appear in speech balloons. By examining the hard work and frustration that often lies behind what can look like inevitable celebrity, Guglielmo (How to Build a Hug) makes a solid case for understanding Cézanne as a painter who followed his own vision. An author's note distinguishes between the historical record and fictional invention. Ages 4-8. Author's agent: Stephen Barbara, InkWell Management. Illustrator's agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

PreS-Gr 3--In this picture book biography, struggling artist Cezanne and his parrot, Bisou, live together in the French countryside. Cezanne's work has been poorly received by art critics in Paris. He is surrounded by a circle of high-achieving artists, but gains no popularity when he bucks tradition by working more slowly than his peers, choosing common, everyday subjects to feature, and by painting with bold confidence instead of refined delicacy. Rather than imitate his predecessors, Cezanne wants to try something new. He seeks to bolster his self-esteem by asking Bisou to say "Cezanne is a great painter," but even the bird stubbornly refuses, displaying a humorous apathy towards all attempts to train him to speak. The artist's life changes overnight when he is invited to exhibit with a like-minded group of creatives and then returns to work with a rejuvenated spirit of determination. The resulting still lifes of fruit are so winsome that Bisou approves. Exquisitely painted illustrations are paired with the text; of particular note are an early spread of Cezanne working with Bisou in a meadow and an impressive series depicting the artist laboring in nine different attitudes. The illustration is everything one would want in a book about Cezanne: bold brushstrokes, heavy lines, and a color scheme that incorporates many of the browns, blues, and greens reminiscent of Cezanne's own artistic sensibilities. Helquist skillfully expresses Cezanne's changing feelings of worry, defeat, and eventual triumph by employing carefully crafted facial expressions and body postures to convey what the artist is thinking. Helquist's depiction of Bisou is equally expressive and animated, with great detailing in the feathers. VERDICT This brilliantly illustrated picture book shares a meaningful message about how to handle criticism, being true to yourself, and finding your crew. Recommended for nonfiction collections.--Lauren Younger, University of Dallas Library

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Sumptuously illustrated...charming and informative. —The Wall Street Journal

An inviting, playful introduction to an influential painter. —Booklist

Readers will find this portrait of an artist distinctive, useful, and appealing. —Kirkus Reviews

This is a great picture book that demonstrates the value of determination, creativity, and self-worth. Children in kindergarten to second grade will enjoy the storyline and the harmonious and colorful illustrations. —School Library Connection

By examining the hard work and frustration that often lies behind what can look like inevitable celebrity, Guglielmo makes a solid case for understanding Cézanne as a painter who followed his own vision. —Publishers Weekly

Amy Guglielmo
Amy Guglielmo is a prolific children's author, artist, art educator, and art activist. She has written a number of books about art for children, including What the Artist Saw: Vincent Van Gogh (2021), published by DK.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication date
February 20, 2020

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