cover image Mr. Gauguin's Heart

Mr. Gauguin's Heart

Marie-Danielle Croteau, , illus. by Isabelle Arsenault, trans. by Susan Ouriou. . Tundra, $18.95 (24pp) ISBN 978-0-88776-824-8

How a young Paul Gauguin copes with grief—finding solace in art—is the subject of this French-Canadian work, which can be somewhat unsettling in its imagery and themes. After his father dies on the family's ocean voyage from Europe to Peru, Paul “sees” his father being carried away by a big orange balloon whose surface bears a crude line drawing of an anatomical heart (other passengers see only a setting sun). First-time illustrator Arsenault paints Paul's vision as well as his spry-looking imaginary dog in ruddy hues that stand out against the predominantly subdued grays and blues, bright spots that speak to Paul's innocence and resilience. Though some might find the ghostly white, disproportionately large faces of Paul's family disturbing, their paleness echoes the story's solemn tone and the jarring subject of a parent's death. When an older gentleman passenger befriends Paul and teaches him that with art “you can bring things to life… or prolong the life they had,” Paul paints the huge sun over the ocean (which viewers incorrectly interpret as the Japanese flag). Croteau's lengthy text gracefully relates these events, but without the presence of any historical notes, readers will be left wondering how much poetic license the author has taken. Ages 6-9. (Sept.)