cover image The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup

The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup

Rosemary Sutcliff. Candlewick Press (MA), $16.95 (48pp) ISBN 978-1-56402-098-7

Often, art as splendid as that created here by Clark ( Listen to This ; Beware of the Aunts! ) overshadows the narrative it illustrates. Not so in this case, since the late Sutcliff's deftly told tale proves as captivating and as timeless as Clark's richly hued oil pastel paintings, allegedly inspired by the work of Piero Della Francesca. These are illustrations in the best sense of the word: through their expressiveness--and careful coordination with the narrative--the story can practically be followed without benefit of text. An exquisite overall design makes this a truly elegant package--both text and paintings are set off in double-ruled borders against marbled black backgrounds; striking mosaic endpapers are echoed in spot-art designs throughout. And the story itself, though a bit long for the standard picture-book format, is a charmer. A minstrel who sings for his supper finds an unusual egg while walking on a beach. Hoping to encourage it to hatch, he plays ``a tune for waking up to''; when a dragon pup emerges, the minstrel names him Lucky. As they wander from town to town, the two grow very close, and the minstrel ``made the best songs he had ever made.'' After a scheming traveling showman steals Lucky, the minstrel is devastated, and his suppers get smaller as his songs grow sadder. A kind king and his gravely ill son play important roles in the heartwarming reunion between man and pet, in a conclusion that will elicit smiles from little ones and gratified sighs from their elders. And--from everyone--the desire to start the story all over again. Ages 5-up. (Apr.)