cover image The Bone Keeper

The Bone Keeper

DK Publishing, G. Brian Karas, Megan McDonald. DK Publishing (Dorling Kindersley), $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7894-2559-1

In a mythic narrative voice accompanied by primitive images, McDonald (Is This a House for Hermit Crab?) describes a mysterious old woman who sifts sand to find bones. Readers can almost hear a drumbeat accompaniment to the text: ""Like the desert pack rat,/ the harvester ant,/ Bone Woman lives deep in a cave,/ a cave cluttered with bones, bones."" Against an off-white chalkiness that suggests a sun-bleached skull, the crone's stooped silhouette seeks tiny bone pieces of long-dead creatures. ""Some say Bone Woman brings the dead back to life,"" whispers the unseen narrator, who tells how the Bone Woman assembles ""spine of snake, skull of lizard.../ claw of badger,/ wishbone of owl,/ wing bone of bat"" into the skeleton of a wolf that, accompanied by Bone Woman's wailing and dancing, is reborn and lopes off into the night. Karas, in a departure from the pencil-cartoon style of Raising Sweetness (reviewed below), takes a minimalist approach to the dreamlike, ceremonial prose. He chooses excessively thick media that could be mud or clay, then shapes it like plaster or marks it with indentations. The illustrations in sandstone brown and pale yellow hues offer nary a hint of plant life, and their heavy, relief-sculpture quality acts as a counterbalance to the text's airy mysticism. Although this tale of death and creation is not attributed to a particular native tradition, the iconic art evokes prehistoric times and adds weight to the storyteller's hypnotic chant. Ages 5-8.(Mar.)