cover image The Knot in the Tracks

The Knot in the Tracks

Roberto Piumini. Tambourine Books, $14 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-688-11166-3

Petrushka, a diligent worker on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, leads a satisfactory, if solitary, existence dedicated to the maintenance of his beloved tracks, so that the weekly train can safely pass. When the blue, belly-scratching demon Rashka--perhaps the unkempt old uncle of Disney's genie--makes it his mission to mangle the rails, Petrushka is doomed to carry out the ogre's every demand. Fedorov, a Russian illustrator making his American debut, conjures up ethereal, desolate landscapes and peppers them with folksy accents: ducks glide into the twilight, lizards slither over the tracks, crows rest on the carcass of a mountain goat. Piumini ( The Saint and the Circus ) similarly builds atmosphere with evocative details; for example, Rashka first demands ``a good hot tea of orange and mint leaves'' (which ``only grow beyond the mountains in the south'') and then wants ``a hundred red pebbles from the mountains in the north.'' The translation occasionally lacks grace, but the mood established by Fedorov and Piumini is solid--a careful mix of the eerie and the exotic secured in a classic folktale format. Ages 5-up. (Mar.)