Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers: The Life of Marc Chagall in Verse (Hardcover)

The Life of Marc Chagall in Verse

By J. Patrick Lewis, Jane Yolen (Notes by), Marc Chagall (Illustrator)

Creative Editions, 9781568462110, 40pp.

Publication Date: August 24, 2011



To do something with seven fingers is a Yiddish expression meaning to do something well or adroitly. Marc Chagall was a Russian Jew and a wandering dreamer. From his humble hometown of Vitebsk, Belarus, he went out to take in the world the grandeur of St. Petersburg, the romance of Paris, the freedom of New York. Through wars, Nazi persecution, and the passing of nine decades, he found love, pioneered techniques in modernism, and painted. Above all, he painted. Fourteen of Chagall's works are here vividly reproduced and accompanied by the poems of notable children's writers J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen in this colorful celebration of a most remarkable artist.

About the Author

J. Patrick Lewis spent years as an economics professor before finding his passion as a writer. Today he holds an esteemed reputation in children's publishing, having authored more than 60 picture books, including such acclaimed titles as Black Cat Bone and The House. In 2011 he was named The Children's Poet Laureate by the The Poetry Foundation. Jane Yolen has been called "the Hans Christian Andersen of America" due to her significant contributions to children's literature, especially her original and collected fairy tales. She has written more than 300 books, including the Caldecott Medal-winning Owl Moon.

Praise For Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers: The Life of Marc Chagall in Verse

Lewis and Yolen pair 14 poems about Marc Chagall (1887-1985) with reproductions of more than a dozen of his paintings (as well as vintage photographs) in this moving account of the artist's Jewish upbringing in what is now Belarus ("Oh, Uncle, play me a communion,/ on your kishefdik violin"), his ascent in the art world, and his loves and losses, including arrest by the Nazis while living in Paris ("There is no arguing with soldiers,/ no pleading while wearing the yellow star"). The duo's emphatic and empathetic verse is put into context by informative biographical sidebars that appear beneath each poem. A study in resilience, dedication, and wide-ranging talent. Ages 11-up. (Nov.)

With a title inspired by one of Marc Chagall's paintings, this handsome, large format book traces his life through freeverse poems and paragraphs of information, illuminated by excellent reproductions of his paintings and a few period photos of the artist and his world. Born in the Russian city of Vitebsk, Chagall married Bella, his muse and frequent model. A Jew, he left Russia in 1922 after the formation of the Soviet Union and fled Nazi-occupied Paris for New York in 1941. He returned to France after the war. Both Lewis and Yolen contribute poems, usually written from Chagall's point of view, and the quality of the verse is quite good. A list of sources is appended. On a typical double-page spread, a clearly written paragraph of information works with the poem and the large illustration on the facing page to communicate a sense of who Marc Chagall was and what he loved as well as tracing the story of his life, noting his accomplishments, and commenting on the artworks shown. A unique introduction to Chagall and his art.

Two equally esteemed poets lend their voices to the art of Marc Chagall. Fourteen poems, which take their titles from Chagall's paintings, provide a chronological narrative of the artist's life, up to his death at age 97 in 1985. Excellent-quality reproductions grace this picture-book-size volume, as do photographs of the artist. There are explanatory notes beneath each poem and a bibliography at the end. Yolen's "Maternity" begins with Chagall's birth, in the then Russian city of Vitebsk; family members toast with schnapps-"May he be a herring merchant like his father." But it is his mother who seems aware of the muse already present in the room: "May he always be happy in his work." Some of Yolen's poems are flavored with Yiddish (translations appear at the bottom of the pages); Lewis's poems are more formal but are also rich in revelation about the paintings. In "I and the Village" he writes, "I knew myself, white lips, my face in green, / I drew the cow's contentment in between." Both poets offer readers new understandings of the paintings: Yolen's "The Flying Horse" conveys the inescapable fear present during the Holocaust, while Lewis's "The Fall of Icarus" provides a horrifying explanation of the red path that divides the painting. The writers grasp the iconography and sensibility of Chagall's work and provide readers with new paths to make this strange and beautiful journey.