WHEN THE ROOT CHILDREN WAKE UP

Audrey Wood, Retold by, Ned Bittinger, Illustrator, Audrey Wood, Author , illus. by Ned Bittinger. Scholastic $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-590-42517-9

Readers familiar with the original 1906 classic by Sybille von Olfers, which featured delicate art nouveau style illustrations, may find this new version overblown. Wood's retelling of the story finds Young Robin Redbreast awakening Mother Earth's brood in early spring and follows the Root Children through their annual "masquerade"—a frolic through the seasons with Aunt Spring, Cousin Summer and Uncle Fall—until it's time for them to return once again to their home beneath the ground "for their long winter's nap." The tale's timeless themes of renewal and rebirth have lost none of their resonance, but the narrative bogs down somewhat in old-fashioned cadences that may be a nod to the source but come off as slightly forced ("May love and happiness follow wherever you may bloom"). Bittinger's hazy, soft-focus oil paintings suffer the same fate. Technically skillful (his animals are exquisite), with delicate brushwork and a comely use of light and shadow, the portraits of the multicultural cast of cherubs, decked out in butterfly wings and floral garlands, falter when the brushwork drifts into the kind of calculated lushness found in Thomas Kinkade paintings. It's a laudable effort, but one that's ultimately less than the sum of its parts. Ages 5-10. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/04/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
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