________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Mr. Gauguin’s Heart.

Marie-Danielle Croteau. Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Translated by Susan Ouriou.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2007.
24 pp., cloth, $22.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-824-8.

Subject Heading:
Gauguin, Paul, 1848-1903-Childhood and youth-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.

***½ /4


Marie threw herself, wailing, into her mother’s arms. Paul said nothing. He didn’t understand what it all meant. He didn’t see how being carried away by one’s heart could be such a tragedy. He took refuge on the ship’s bridge with his dog and stared at the horizon. Suddenly, he saw a huge red balloon floating in the distance. Holding on to the balloon was his father.


Young Paul Gauguin’s father dies while on board a ship on route from Denmark to Peru. When his mother tells Paul that his father had “been carried away,” Paul sees his father floating away holding onto a red balloon. Although Paul’s imaginary orange dog helps him emotionally, the young child experiences difficulties understanding his father’s death. As the sea journey continues, Paul becomes more withdrawn and refuses to leave the ship when it reaches Peru.

     An elderly man encourages Paul to depart the vessel, stating that Paul and his dog need some exercise. The man invites Paul to meet him at a nearby park the following morning. The gentleman has obviously spoken with Paul’s mother about this arrangement, and the next morning Paul, with his picnic basket and imaginary orange dog, meet the man in the park. The man is a painter, and the boy watches the artist create on the canvas. The man invites Paul to paint a picture of his dog, and, to Paul’s surprise, he discovers that his basket contains the tools he needs to draw and paint. Paul is told by the man how painting is “magic” and that one can “bring things to life or prolong the life they had.” Inspired by these philosophical statement, Paul returns home, locks himself in his room and paints. When he finally opens the door to his worried mother, she views Paul’s painting of a large red sun setting over the ocean, symbolically representing his father’s heart. The book ends with readers’ learning that Paul Gauguin became one of the greatest painters of his time.

internal art

     This picturebook provides readers with an introduction to the famous painter who spent time creating with fellow artist Van Gogh. A note at the end of the picturebook providing further information about Paul Gauguin would have been most appropriate.

     The orange paper of the half-title page is the same colour as Paul’s imaginary dog. Readers should note Arsenault’s symmetry of the use of the same illustration of the imaginary canine appearing on the first opening and on the last page of the book. The vignette on the title page is the same illustration above the text on the penultimate verso. With respect to layout, each opening of the picturebook has the text on the verso and a full bleed illustration on the recto. Several versos have an illustration above the text, and the gutter of each opening, beginning with the title page, has a red border, approximately one centimeter in width, which extends the length both of the verso and the recto. The artwork complements the historical context of the story. Viewers observe the unfolding visual story from front, side and behind perspectives.

     The symbolism of the penultimate recto is multiple as not only does Paul’s painting of the sunset represent his father’s heart, but this illustration is the first one in the book where Paul’s imaginary dog is not physically in attendance. However, the dog is present as an orange outline painted on a canvas that is sitting on the floor. The last recto of the book shows the back of the canvas of Paul’s painting, and a red heart is painted on the bottom right-hand corner of the artwork.

Highly Recommended.

Sylvia Pantaleo teaches language arts courses in the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.