cover image Matreshka


Rebecca Hickox, Becky Hickox Ayres, Rebecca Ayres. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, $15 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-385-30657-7

This rather bland fairy tale, inspired by Russian folklore, tells of a girl captured by the evil witch Baba Yaga whose doll comes to her rescue. A carved wooden figure, Matreshka pops open at crucial moments to reveal successively smaller dolls, which act as lookouts and unlatch doors during Kata's flight from the crone's house. Ayres's ( Victoria Flies High ) mild narrative evinces no suspense or particular grace needed to distinguish it from other retold tales. Kata is a passive heroine, and even Matreshka ``speaks'' only in couplets that strain for rhyme at the expense of meter--``Lift me up to see / out of the door,/ And in a moment / we may know more.'' The somewhat lame denouement--in which the smallest of the dolls whispers in Baba Yaga's ear, confounding her spell and transforming her into a frog--lacks the dramatic buildup and powerful climax of a true folktale. Natchev's bright, collage-like mixed-media artwork, in hues of purple, green and orange, depicts Kata and her grandfather with button noses and red cheeks, looking a good deal like another pair of cute dolls. Ages 5-8. (Oct.)