cover image The Children of Lir

The Children of Lir

Sheila Macgill-Callahan. Dial Books, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1121-1

The craggy coast of Ireland provides a brooding backdrop for this stirring folktale, reputed to be the genesis of Shakespeare's Lear. After the death of his wife, Aobh, King Lir marries her sister Aiofe, whose beauty ``hid an evil heart.'' Jealous of her husband's love for his four children, Aiofe casts a spell on the youths, turning them into swans ``for three times three hundred years,'' or until the twin mountains bordering the kingdom should come together. In her second book, MacGill-Callahan ( And Still the Turtle Watched ) exhibits an admirable sense of classical fairy-tale style: her prose, studded with poetic imagery and elegant turns of phrase, escalates the story's dramatic impact. Spirin's ( Snow White and Rose Red ) characteristically sumptuous, gilt-flecked paintings accentuate both the material opulence of royalty and the strength and natural beauty of the varied animals who assist the swans and provide the book's joyful conclusion. Lavish double-page spreads are balanced by smaller watercolors set among the text--though the painstaking detail is occasionally difficult to discern in the individual illustrations. A lyrical and compelling narrative, coupled with another triumph of artistry and exquisite design for a consummate craftsman. Ages 4-8. (Mar. )