Matthew lives with his poor family in a dark, dreary corner of the attic. But he is a little mouse with a big dream. At first, he doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up. But after a visit to the museum, he dreams about becoming an artist. With his mind flooded with colour, form and shape, he sees the dreariness of his surroundings as an opportunity and learns that things are what you see them to be.
Leo Lionni was an Italian American artist, who also wrote and illustrated children’s picture books. His work, based on collage as its primary medium, is deceptively simple. There are opportunities here to learn about portraiture, landscape painting, still life, impressionism, cubism and pointillism. Learn, too, about Monet, Picasso and Miro; all styles represented in Matthew’s museum.
But beyond the images, which in themselves create a picture book with appeal to very young children, lies an anthropomorphic fable which is deeply philosophical. It talks about dreams, inspiration, commitment to an ideal and determination to succeed, even when those around us might have very different aspirations. It’s about finding out who you are made to be, and about pursuing your dream to become that person
This is a difficult book for which to provide a recommended age. For pure enjoyment of colour, shape and texture it is suitable for 3—5 year olds. It is an ideal text to introduce 5-7 year olds to various expressions of art. But as with all complex picture books, the underlying themes and the questions which they raise would continue to challenge the thinking of any Junior school aged pupil. I highly recommend this book. It is the reissue of an original hardback, but none the less welcome – if your hardback version has been read as much as it deserves to be, it will have fallen apart a long time ago.