cover image THE FIREBIRD


Jane Yolen, , illus. by Vladimir Vagin. . HarperCollins, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-028538-8

This gracefully structured picture book introduces readers to the famous Firebird ballet (choreographed by George Balanchine to Igor Stravinsky's music) and the Russian folklore that inspired it. Accomplished hunter Prince Ivan becomes lost in a strange, tangled wood where the only living creature is the magnificent Firebird, which he snares. In exchange for her life, the magical bird offers Prince Ivan one of her glorious feathers and a pledge of help if ever he should call upon her. The feather and Firebird serve Prince Ivan well when he battles evil wizard Kostchei the Deathless and frees the maidens imprisoned in Kostchei's garden. Yolen (How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?) crafts her well-paced tale from a variety of sources (listed in an author's note), including her own childhood memory of seeing Firebird danced by Maria Tallchief in 1949. Employing a design that is both stylish and informative, Vagin (The King's Equal) depicts a ballet performance in a panel that runs across the lower portion of each page, while the larger, top portion of the pages contain his dramatic interpretation of the story. From the brilliant, red-plumed Firebird to the sumptuously decorated house of the wizard, Vagin's crisply rendered paintings evoke czarist Russia. The elegant costumes and poses in his ballet scenes may well leave many readers eager to view a live performance. Ages 3-6. (May)