cover image Simple Gifts

Simple Gifts

Chris Raschka. Henry Holt & Company, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5143-8

Raschka (Mysterious Thelonius), one of the reigning risk-takers of the picture book world, undertakes yet another challenge in this interpretation of a traditional Shaker song, albeit less successfully. Using oil crayon on pastel paper, he creates an exceedingly handsome stained glass effect, with heavy black lines juxtaposed against hues as warm as a flurry of autumn leaves. As always, Raschka's vision is unique, and here he translates the Shaker musical paean to a simplified life into a sort of peaceable kingdom, where a cat, blue jay, rabbit, squirrel and turtle dwell together in harmony with nature. The artwork is undeniably glorious, but, as appealing as this serene, spiritual vision is, readers may miss the joy implicit in this Shaker song that is meant for dancing. Adults will likely find themselves drawn to search closely for visual metaphor and meaning, and to reflect on the rather sophisticated ideas in the lyrics (""When true simplicity is gained,/ To bow and to bend/ we shan't be asham'd/ To turn, turn/ will be our delight/ Till by turning, turning/ we come 'round right""). But aside from the pleasing look of the paintings, youngsters may be left a bit at sea. Ages 4-8. (Mar.) FYI: The music to ""Simple Gifts"" is included, along with a brief afterword describing the Shaker community.