cover image At the Wish of a Fish: A Russian Folktale

At the Wish of a Fish: A Russian Folktale

J. Patrick Lewis. Atheneum Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81336-8

Lewis (The La-di-da Hare) takes a tale ripe with classic folk elements and brings out its full flavor by means of thoughtfully seasoned language. Emelya, the village fool, is promised anything he desires in return for freeing a pike he has accidentally caught. He tests out the pike's powers before accepting the deal, but he doesn't avail himself of the pike's help until much later, when he is ordered to get a sleighful of kindling from the forest. Then, issuing a rhymed command (""At the pike's request, the sleigh runs west""), Emelya races his sleigh so quickly that the peasants can't get out of his way in time. The Tsar orders him seized (""You knocked over half a village,"" the Tsar roars), and the rest of the story concerns Emelya's love for the Tsar's beautiful daughter and his use of magic wishes to win first the girl and then her outraged father's approval. The wishes made in rhyme combine with metaphoric language (""Winter is still beating at the door,"" says Emelya's sister-in-law when she tells him to gather the kindling) and colorful expressions (""Faster than a mouse on a cat's watch, Marya ran down the stairs""). Unfortunately, Kr nina's (The Birds' Gift: A Ukrainian Easter Story) folkloric watercolor and gouache art works against the comedy and liveliness of the tale. For example, the fateful sleigh ride isn't depicted; instead, readers see a few peasants at a safe remove, gaping but otherwise untroubled. A regiment of the Tsar's Imperial Guard is visually translated as three men in red caftans, and even the action sequences seem static. Ages 6-9. (May)