cover image The Fisherman and His Wife

The Fisherman and His Wife

Rosemary Wells. Dial Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1850-0

Wells refashions the Brothers Grimm tale, retaining the moral but casting a sunny glow over the proceedings. Most of the action is familiar--a fisherman spares the life of a talking fish and has his wishes (and those of his increasingly dissatisfied wife) granted in return--but there are numerous fun embellishments. The setting is Norway and a pair of cats, Ragnar and Ulla, are the main characters. A peddler delivers the fruits of Ulla's wishes, everything from a larger kettle to the keys to a mansion (""Already paid for"" is his refrain). When the fish turns down Ulla's grandest request--to be queen of Norway--the couple is not punished (as in Grimm), but learns a lesson about true contentment. Too, there's an upbeat ending, as the peddler makes a final visit bearing just the thing the couple does need--their very own kitten (which, neatly, has a few distinguishing characteristics in common with the talking fish). As always, Wells distills the essence of her story in precise, descriptive language: ""They were happy with no more than the taste of homemade bread and the smell of the west wind."" In debut artist Hubbard's gouache, watercolor and pencil illustrations, cozy touches abound, from the traditional Scandinavian-patterned wool socks and sweaters to the dried flowers hanging from cottage rafters. However, her color choices occasionally clash and her draftsmanship is uneven; the cover illustration, for example, is far bolder and more decisive than most of the art within. But it's still a pleasant outing, and certainly one of the livelier versions of this tale. Ages 4-8. (July)