cover image The Firebird

The Firebird

Selina Hastings. Candlewick Press (MA), $15.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-1-56402-096-3

Hastings's lustrous retelling of this Russian folktale turns on a version by Afanasyev, an intriguing variation from the better known story on which Stravinsky's ballet is based. The Firebird actually plays a small part here; instead, the narrative focuses on the huntsman, a hapless fellow with a Jay Leno jawline and a horse smarter than Mr. Ed. Spying a Firebird feather while out for a ride, the huntsman is warned by his trusty steed that it will bring ``trouble such as you have never known.'' The rash fellow ignores the advice, presents the feather to the king, and is promptly ordered off on a series of impossible scavenger hunts to assuage the monarch's greed. The huntsman's misadventures culminate in a dip in boiling water (his horse saves him, of course), from which he emerges a veritable Prince Valiant and wins the hand of the Princess Vasilisa. Cartwright's sleek, stylized artwork skates close to the surreal, while a dynamic, many-layered quality gives it the look of collage. Onion-domed buildings, a brief appearance by a full-bearded Orthodox priest, and other touches hint of the story's place of origin and provide a subtly sophisticated backdrop to Hastings's stylish prose. As retellings go, this one is a corker. Ages 5-up. (Mar.)