cover image Marushka's Egg

Marushka's Egg

Elsa Okon Rael. Four Winds, $14.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-02-775655-5

This gracefully illustrated, effusively narrated first book for author and illustrator retells the Eastern European tale of a girl captured by the witch, Baba Yaga. Sent to buy an egg for Easter, Marushka instead is sucked inside its shell and held prisoner by the evil hag. Rael's account of the girl's enslavement, her growing friendship with the witch's pets and their eventual escape unfolds with the deliberately paced, repetitive style of oral narrative as the heroine gradually gains the wisdom to free herself and her animal companions. But although the author's engaging yarn recalls a genuine Old World tale, her densely layered prose may seem overlong to contemporary readers. Moreover, the story's denouement--in which Marushka simply seizes Baba Yaga's magic amulet and uses it to escape from the egg--lacks sufficient drama to merit the lengthy build-up. Wezyk's naive-style tempera and watercolor illustrations create a richly textured panorama that calls to mind Russian babushka dolls. In a luminous rainbow of colors, she brings to life Marushka's loving home, the bustling village market, the macabre world inside the egg, and the hag flying through the air in her mortar, all surrounded by elaborate floral borders. Ages 5-9. (Feb.)