cover image Luba and the Wren

Luba and the Wren

Patricia Polacco. Philomel Books, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23168-1

Polacco (Rechenka's Eggs; Babushka Baba Yaga) again uses old-world Russia as the backdrop for a timeless, vigorously illustrated tale, this one a variation on The Fisherman and His Wife. Here it is a young girl who rescues an enchanted creature, a wren, which offers to grant her a wish. Content, she requests nothing, but her parents force her to bring the wren a series of rapidly escalating demands. The brilliant hues of Polacco's sprawling, full-spread paintings intensify as the parents' greed grows and they upgrade their station in life from dwelling in a humble dacha to reigning as ""Emperor and Empress of all the world."" Creating an effective contrast to these splendid surroundings, the artist depicts the wren's forest home as increasingly dark and foreboding. With the bird's burgeoning disgust at the parents' demands, the sky becomes blacker, the wind howls and storm clouds ""rolled angrily in the sky."" Youngsters may need some adult help to grasp why the wren's granting of the parents' final, ""sacrilegious"" wish--""to be as Gods""--finds them back in their original dacha yet ""happy, and very, very content indeed."" But even if it's a bit subtle, the happy ending puts an agreeable spin on the standard version of this tale, teaching the same moral in a light and positive manner. Ages 4-8. (May)