cover image The Frog Princess

The Frog Princess

J. Patrick Lewis. Dial Books, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1623-0

Spirin's ( The Children of Lir ) sumptuous art is reason alone to celebrate this volume, but the text is every bit as rich. Working from a Russian folktale, Lewis ( A Hippopotomusn't ) fashions a complex story out of a multitude of fairy-tale elements. A czar commands each of his three sons to shoot an arrow into the woods and marry the woman who retrieves it; while the elder brothers find important, wealthy maidens, Ivan, the youngest, is forced to marry a small frog. But Ivan's bride soon reveals herself to be Vasilisa the Wise, under a curse from her evil father. Determined to keep her in human form, Ivan burns her frog skin. As a result she is transformed into a swan and flies off to a Kingdom beyond Blue Kingdoms, from which Ivan must rescue her. Her perilous journey, during which she is aided by such unlikely creatures as a bear, a falcon, a pike and the infamous Baba Yaga, forms the second half of the narrative. Lewis, admirably, summons enough flair to link the numerous motifs. Spirin's minutely detailed portraits adorn each page, highlighting every flounce, every furbelow of the characters' court clothing; and he frames boxes of text with full-bleed paintings that resemble embroidered and bejeweled fabrics. That Spirin can use four-color art to create the effect of lustrous gold ink is further proof that he has the talents of an alchemist. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)