cover image Days of the Blackbird

Days of the Blackbird

Tomie dePaola. Putnam Publishing Group, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-22929-9

In Northern Italy, legend has it that the weather is so cold during the last three days of January that the white doves that take shelter in the chimney tops emerge black from soot. The Italians call this time of year ""Le Giornate della Merla"" (the Days of the Blackbird), and thereby hangs a tale-or, at least, it has inspired dePaola to create this well-seasoned offering. As he explains in an afterword, his story is a sort of Italian ""Emperor's Nightingale,"" featuring a duke, his devoted daughter and a particularly beautiful white dove whose sweet song sustains the nobleman through a long winter of illness. DePaola spins the tale with panache, imbuing it with a folktale-like timelessness, and artistically it's clear he was delighted to return once again to his beloved Italy for visual cues. The pages radiate warmth, from the picturesque late medieval setting and the terra cotta or blue-green houses with their tiled roofs, to the jewel-colored birds and flowers of the duke's garden. A sprinkling of Italian words and phrases adds an authentic flavor. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)