Madonna, Author, Olga Dugina, Illustrator, Andrej Dugin, Illustrator , illus. by Olga Dugina and Andrej Dugin. Callaway $19.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-670-05889-1

This rococo vision of a tale takes place "in a land far away from the one we know, where sand and mountains stretched as far as the eye could see, and snake charmers wandered the streets." Young Abdi, an orphan, assists a white-bearded, brown-robed jeweler named Eli, said to possess "magical powers." One day, the two receive an urgent commission, to craft a necklace for the queen that "must shine like the sun and move like a snake." They set to work, and the exhausted Eli finally tells Abdi to carry the necklace to the palace. The boy hops aboard a camel with some "Bedouins" and, inevitably, snoozes while two thieves steal the precious necklace. Abdi, who arrives at the palace with a real (but friendly) snake in his purse, conducts himself according to Eli's advice: "Without certainty, we can accomplish nothing.... You must say to yourself, 'I am sure it is for the best!' " Ultimately the snake transforms into jewelry when the cooperative queen tries it on. In Dugina and Dugin's sumptuous images, the elaborate floral motifs, beautifully draped clothing and weird creatures suggest what might happen if Michelangelo and Bosch got together to paint a mosque. Eli and Abdi inhabit a land of animal-people and orientalism run amok; a cobra-bodied man plays a flute, dark-skinned dwarves assist the milky-skinned queen and a gazelle sports a turbaned person's head. Some readers may be troubled by this harem-chic depiction of an exotic Middle East and its simplistic "it is for the best" philosophy. However, Abdi himself possesses the firm certitude and great luck of a folk hero. Ages 4-8. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 11/22/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Genre: Children's
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