cover image The Birds' Gift: A Ukrainian Easter Story

The Birds' Gift: A Ukrainian Easter Story

Eric A. Kimmel, Katya Krenina. Holiday House, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1384-3

This atmospheric folktale by the author and illustrator of The Magic Dreidels will interest anyone who has ever admired Ukrainian decorated Easter eggs, or pysanky, as they are identified here. The story is uncomplicated: when winter arrives early and with severe storms, Katrusya inspires the whole village to rescue the hundreds upon hundreds of tiny birds trapped in the snow. Later, when spring comes, the birds show their gratitude by leaving the world's first pysanky. There's a priest drawing lessons from the birds' behavior and there are references to Easter, but Kimmel reserves the full force of his storytelling for folkloric rather than religious elements. He smoothly integrates cultural details, using foreign terms and letting the context serve as translation--the Ukrainian setting is preserved, but readers can experience it comfortably and confidently. Krenina is at her best with her judicious use of folk motifs. These show up as frames for her often loosely defined compositions and, appropriately, on the characters' clothing (Katrusya's woven scarf and the embroidery on the women's black vests are especially beautiful). She exercises restraint, allowing only so many patterned objects per painting, and as a result, the final spread, showing more than a dozen pysanka, becomes climactic in its intricacies and embellishments. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)