THE RACE OF THE BIRKEBEINERS

Lise Lunge-Larsen, Author, Mary Azarian, Illustrator , illus. by Mary Azarian. Houghton $16 (32p) ISBN 978-0-618-10313-3

Based on a 1264 account documenting a true incident in Norwegian history, this engaging narrative opens during a 1206 Christmas Eve gathering at the home of one of the Birkebeiners, a group of brave warriors. A priest knocks on the door, who has in his protection a baby, Prince Håkon, and his mother; a rival band aspires to kill the child (who is heir to the throne) and to declare one of their own king. Soon a handful of Birkebeiners escorts the trio, escaping on skis across tall, stormy mountains. Caldecott winner Azarian's (Snowflake Bentley) finely detailed woodcut illustrations, hand-tinted with watercolors, capture the serene snow-covered landscape as well as the driving snowstorm that impedes the travelers' progress. In direct and compelling prose, Lunge-Larsen recounts how the two Birkebeiners most renowned for their skiing ability forge ahead with the prince, fortuitously happen upon a barn buried under a snowdrift and manage to keep the baby alive by feeding him snow. In a concluding note, the author explains that Håkon became Norway's most powerful king during the Middle Ages and brought peace and prosperity to the country, making this rescue tale all the more gratifying. The stately art, which includes intricate borders framing blocks of text, neatly captures the historical and cultural aspects of this story. Ages 5-9. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 09/03/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
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