cover image Bearhide and Crow

Bearhide and Crow

Paul Brett Johnson. Holiday House, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1470-3

Once again Johnson (Old Dry Frye; The Cow Who Wouldn't Come Down) serves up a witty, satisfying blend of Appalachian lore and his own storytelling savvy. Amos Dyer cannot resist a swap. So when wily Sam Hankins tells Amos that the smelly old bearhide Sam has bought from a gypsy woman has magical powers, they make a trade. Just when Amos begins to doubt Sam's word, the hide attracts a crow ("" `Hmmm... A crow is good luck,' Amos mused""). Using the titular tools--along with some old-fashioned cunning and some luck--Amos turns the tables on Sam. Johnson bases Amos's scheme on a folk belief that ""If you split a crow's tongue, you can then teach it human speech."" And when ""Quaw! Quaw!"" is all the bird in question says, it inspires Amos to some Huck Finn-like logic (""Why, Sam, that crow talks up a storm. The problem is, you don't understand crow language, that's all""). Johnson sets the high jinks among steep hills and dirt roads that seem to shimmer, thanks to impressionistic daubs of color. His blue-jeaned characters wear their personalities on their faces; Amos has a smooth, unpretentious grin, while both Sam and his spotted hound dog sneer with greed. Alert readers will spot a crow and a ""gypsy woman"" lurking in key pictures, particularly at the snappy punch line: ""Sam Hankins never did learn Crow."" Ages 4-8. (Mar.)