cover image Kashtanka


Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-200539-9

Spirin brings his lush, luminous art to the Russian master's strange tale of a lost dog. Rescued by a stranger, Kashtanka is brought to a new home, which she shares with a goose, white cat and pig-all performers in a circus. The dog, too, begins to learn tricks and games, but the novelty of her new life is tempered by her nostalgia for her first home, with a cabinetmaker's family. When the cabinetmaker and his son attend the circus on the night of Kashtanka's debut, the dog must choose her destiny. Trading the saturated spreads and highly wrought borders of his recent works (The Nose; The Children of Lir) for full-page watercolors faced by vignettes and asymmetrical silhouettes, Spirin breathes movement into the pages. Perspectives shift rapidly, subtly conveying Kashtanka the dog's disorientation. Without cashing in on the buffoonery that hovers just beneath the surface of the text, Spirin captures the camaraderie among the animal friends. Kashtanka's new life is presented as an almost surreally solemn carnival whereas her old life, wrapped in misty snow and woodshavings, has the ethereal quality of a dream. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)