cover image The Legend of El Dorado

The Legend of El Dorado

Nancy Van Laan. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-80136-8

Over the years, the name El Dorado has come to signify any place of fabulous wealth; the words also have a literal meaning--``the gilded man.'' This story relates the intriguing legend of a king whose wife and daughter are bewitched by a mysterious serpent in Lake Guatavita and lured beneath its surface. Each year, the grieving monarch covers himself with gold dust and is rafted out to the middle of the lake. There, in an elaborate ritual, he tosses treasures into the water to remind the serpent of its promise to someday reunite him with his family. As a final gesture, the king dives into the lake, offering the gold dust from his body. One year he doesn't reappear--the serpent has kept its promise. The splendid pairing of Van Laan's suave retelling and Vidal's richly colored illustrations--meticulously executed and imbued with a primitive charm--capture all the beauty and mysticism of a culture from long ago and far away. Ages 4-9. (Aug.)