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Four Russian folktales--"The Snow Maiden, "Sadko the Merchant," "The Firebird," and "Baba-Yoga and Fair Vassilisa"--are set in the framework of a fifth tale, "The Tale of Tsar Saltan," as told by a wise old cat
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Grade 2-5-Mayhew has interwoven five Russian folktales into one narrative. As the framing tale, he uses the story of Tsar Saltan, who is tricked by his envious sisters-in-law into throwing his wife into the sea. Arriving on a distant island, the tsaritsa and her son (whom she'd hidden up her sleeve) are befriended by a magical black cat, Koshka, who not only helps solve their dilemma but wiles away the time by telling them tales of the Snowmaiden, Sadko the Minstrel, the Firebird, and Baba Yaga. While this integration of the separate stories is ingenious, at times the strain starts to show, e.g., when the tsaritsa's evil sisters continually run back to Baba Yaga for advice on how to outwit Koshka. Mayhew does a commendable job of presenting sources for his retellings, which are drawn from both opera libretti and books. His full-color illustrations, placed mostly on the borders of each page, combine layers of watercolor, ink washes, pen and ink, and gouache. They are highly stylized and suitably mirror the action of each tale. At times, the faces of the human characters seem inconsistent, but given the high overall quality of the illustrations, this is a minor flaw. While the audience for this book may be limited, it does offer a new and vital interpretation of traditional Russian folklore.
Denise Anton Wright, Illinois State University, Normal
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A vibrant and accessible collection of five Russian folktales is woven together by the spirited narration of Koshka the cat. In the first episode, "The Tale of Tsar Saltan," a tsaritsa hopes to bear seven sons but is thwarted by jealous sisters. She is cast upon the sea, one son hidden with her, and surfaces on a distant island where dwells Koshka. The garrulous cat spins stories of such legendary figures as the Firebird and Baba Yaga, with each tale interspersed with further developments concerning Tsar Saltan and his wife. Linked in this way the stories suggest the wonderful richness and complexity of the Russian storytelling tradition. Mayhew acknowledges his debt to opera, and his love of ornamentation is evident in dramatically bordered text and illustrations that sparkle like a Faberge egg. Ages 5-up.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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