cover image The Sleeping Gypsy

The Sleeping Gypsy

Mordicai Gerstein. Holiday House, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-2142-8

Henri Rousseau's painting "The Sleeping Gypsy" has a mysterious charm all its own. Gerstein (I Am Pan!) builds his story around it%E2%80%94and in it. The original painting shows a woman fast asleep in the desert with a lion standing over her. Gerstein rewinds to the start of her journey, showing her walking across the desert, then lying down at nightfall to sleep. Desert animals begin to nose about, and then a lion leaps through the group, ready to eat her. At that moment, a man wearing a beret steps out of the shadows. "I am Henri Rousseau," he says. "We are all in a dream. It is my dream." Setting up his easel, he takes charge: "You, Lion, stay just where you are and lift your tail a bit." When the other animals complain ("You've made my nose too big"), he summarily paints them out%E2%80%94all but the lion%E2%80%94then repairs to Paris to finish the canvas. Gerstein interprets Rousseau's painting style both faithfully and freely, and his story suggests that there's nothing inevitable about the famous works of art we think we know. Ages 4%E2%80%938. (Sept.)