cover image A Wagonload of Fish

A Wagonload of Fish

. HarperCollins, $15 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-688-12172-3

A long-suffering man who tries to please his crabby and demanding wife is bested by a sly fox in this folktale amalgam. In the dead of winter, an old peasant woman insists that her husband rustle up some succulent fish to eat. Obsessed, she embroiders fish patterns on the napkins and hums fish songs until she drives her husband batty. In June he finally embarks on a fishing expedition and hauls in a great catch. On the way home, the old man spots a seemingly dead fox in the road, and scoops this additional prize into his wagon with the fish. Outfoxed by the fox, the man returns home empty-handed, surely to endure more henpecking. Unfortunately, first-time author Bodnar's retelling of this Hungarian tale feels like a bit of a hodgepodge, echoing both the Fisherman's Wife from the Brothers Grimm as well as Aesop's fox fables. This divergent structure means the story never finds its footing, the focus relegated to neither fox nor fish nor unhappy couple. Despite the narrative's shortcomings, Bodnar's stylish, intelligent prose is spiked with humor and full of colorful imagery. More compelling are Natchev's (The Hobyahs) wittily composed, rustically textured paintings. His folksy fish motifs and earth-tone period peasant costumes splashed with bits of bright red, green and pink keep the unwieldy story afloat. Ages 4-up. (Mar.) Fiction