Henri keeps painting and learning. In the fall he collects leaves from the cemetery to sketch. He spends hours drawing at the Jardin des Plantes, where—oh happiness!—a gardener sneaks him into the hothouses.

Towering palms spread their giant fans; tropical plants fruit and flower into garlands, rockets, and rosettes of color.

When Henri walks through the glass doorway, it’s as though he enters into a dream. It’s like he is someone else completely.

One day Henri paints a still desert night, bathed in moon glow. He sees a gypsy sleeping. A lion creeps up, but does no harm.

Once again he takes his work to the art show. This time, perhaps, he’ll please the experts. His pulse races.

The experts say he paints like a child. “If you want to have a good laugh,” one of them writes, “go see the paintings by Henri Rousseau.”

By now Henri is used to the nasty critics. He knows his shapes are simpler and flatter than everyone else’s, but he thinks that makes them lovely. He spends all he earns on art supplies, and pays for his bread and coal with landscapes and portraits. In the afternoon he takes off his frayed smock and gives music lessons. His home is a shabby little studio, where one pot of stew must last the whole week. But every morning he wakes up and smiles at his pictures.


Excerpted with permission from The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel. © 2012 Michelle Markel. Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wim B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.