cover image The Mightiest Heart

The Mightiest Heart

Lynn Cullen. Dial Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2292-7

Welsh legend has it that as a boy, 12th-century Prince Llywelyn was blessed with a faithful dog named Gelert, and this strange and sentimental retelling marks novelist Cullen's (Stink Bomb; The Backyard Ghost) picture book debut. Llywelyn and his canine companion are inseparable until he marries a cold princess and begins to ignore his true-hearted dog. One day, the couple's newborn son is missing and Llywelyn, discovering Gelert near the crib with a bloody mouth, raises his sword to the animal, only to find the infant safe and a dead wolf outside. Gelert then disappears, and Llywelyn is doomed to a life of regret. Later the prince is redeemed when the heroic beast reappears to him in two mysterious ways. Though somewhat stilted language dots the prose (""With an anguished roar, Llywelyn attacked Gelert""), the period setting and compelling plot will carry readers along. In a remarkable debut, Long crafts oil paintings that resemble medieval tapestries: steeped in a wide array of greens, sprinkled with blood reds and burgundies and teeming with flower and fauna. Her close-up renderings of expressive faces against deep landscapes of rolling hills and turbulent skies give the tale an epic quality. A handsome presentation of a fairy tale with an unusual moral: ""The mightiest heart can come in the humblest vessel."" Ages 4-up. (Oct.)