cover image Bearskin


Howard Pyle. HarperCollins, $16 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-688-09837-7

Decidedly American and far sunnier than the Grimms' tale of the same name, this is the first of Pyle's original tales in The Wonder Clock (published in 1887). A king casts the miller's son into the wilderness to avert a wise man's prophecy that the boy will one day marry the king's daughter. The miller's son is then raised by a bear, and though he is loved, he yearns for his own kind. With the help of his wits and some gifts from the bear, he slays a dragon and, of course, marries the princess. No European prince or peasant, Bearskin speaks with the no-nonsense dialect of a true American, even when about to fight the dragon: ""Just go in back of the bushes yonder, and leave it with me to talk the matter over with Master Dragon."" Hyman (St. George and the Dragon) paints him as Native American in appearance, and indeed populates the book with a pointedly multiracial cast: most of the royal types and peasants look European, while all the wise and understanding characters do not (e.g., the princess and the chief forester's clever wife are of African descent). Hyman proves her mastery with paintings that range from the bountiful picture of the chief forester's kitchen, ducks, rabbit and chili peppers hanging from the rafters, dogs at his feet, wife advising him with wooden spoon in hand; to the sweet picture of baby Bearskin drifting like Moses on the river; to the manly Bearskin assuming St. George's stance as he charges into the three-headed dragon. Hyman infuses these memorable characters with just the right visual touches of humor and intelligence to meet the standards of Pyle's classic American tale. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)