cover image The Gigantic Turnip

The Gigantic Turnip

Niamh Sharkey, Alexei Tolstoy. Barefoot Books, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-1-902283-12-8

Up-to-the-minute illustrations and graphic design serve as the new-fangled foil to the well-known Russian folktale. The text has a familiar, classic cadence; the publisher says that Tolstoy was the first to record the story, in the 19th century. The eponymous turnip, as many readers will already know, grows to colossal size and won't budge from the ground, forcing an elderly farmer couple to seek assistance from a succession of barn animals in order to pull it out. Working in a style reminiscent of Yumi Heo's for its flatness and angularity, Sharkey (Tales of Wisdom and Wonder) produces figures with beady eyes, spindly limbs and small, delineated smiles. They toil against a stark, elemental landscape that is mostly sky. The text itself takes on visual prominence, displayed centrally in large type, sometimes curving, sometimes magnified for effect. The animals (e.g., the two pot-bellied pigs, the three black cats, the four speckled hens) caper acrobatically, while the turnip itself is depicted as monumentally spherical as a planet. Two recent versions of this tale, Jan Peck and Barry Root's The Giant Carrot and Vladimir Vagin's The Enormous Carrot, build momentum right up to the ending, when all the animals share in a boisterous feast; here, the climactic moment comes earlier, when the turnip is finally dislodged. Sharkey's pacing creates a circular balance: the story begins calmly and ends calmly, with plenty of fun in between. Ages 2-5. (Feb.)