The Language of Birds

Rafe Martin, Author, Susan Gaber, Illustrator, Rafe Martin, Illustrator Putnam Publishing Group $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-22925-1
From the stunning cover painting to mesmerizing interior illustrations, Gaber's (previously paired with Martin for The Brave Little Parrot) art is the high point of this Russian fairytale. A merchant tells his two sons to prove themselves. The older, Vasilii, squanders his father's money and then lies about it; gentle Ivan, reporting that he has learned the language of birds, earns his father's scorn and fury. In the time-honored manner of such tales, boastful and dishonest Vasilii is saved from a bad end only through the intercession of Ivan, whose gift and kindness combine to win him the hand of the czar's wise daughter. Martin's text is full of drama and fairy tale cadences, but he also supplies homilies in place of transitions. It's jarring when the bellowing czar who has promised to marry his daughter to anyone who can rid his bedroom window of three noisy crows suddenly delivers a feminist riff about children learning things from both parents. Gaber's illustrations, on the other hand, are thoroughly splendid. Throughout, she quotes from medieval paintings. Faces stiff as wooden relics, ornamented floors and arched castle windows, a rearing stallion and medieval banners, are unexpectedly combined with intriguing, free-flowing designs that feature a swirl of crow wings or a sweep of gray cranes. A memorable presentation. Ages 5-up. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/03/2000
Release date: 07/01/2000
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