Books by Deborah Nourse Lattimore

Released: May 6, 2003

Nesting dolls have a rich history, in Russia, dating from the 19th century. Dillon's literary legend explains the origin of the tiny matrioshkas ("little mothers"). After Sasha's rag doll is chewed to shreds by mice, her grandfather—a box maker—carves his young granddaughter a tiny doll. To keep the doll safe from the mice (and the Tsar's Calvary), he carves a slightly larger doll-shaped box until there are seven dolls one inside the other. When the townspeople see Sasha playing with her "matrioshka dolls" many request a set of seven for themselves. Grandfather has never known such prosperity. Lattimore's use of watercolors and colored pencils is masterful. Her exquisite illustrations, dominated by folk art motifs and glorious colors, are reminiscent of Old Russia. An author's note provides a brief historical perspective. A delightful tale destined to delight readers and collectors of the charming carvings. (Picture book. 3-8)Read full book review >
MEDUSA by Deborah Nourse Lattimore
Released: May 31, 2000

Lattimore (Cinderhazel, 1997, etc) presents the Medusa legend as an elaborate curse orchestrated start to finish by a savagely jealous goddess. Though her mother is "one part poisonous eel, one part giant water snake, and a third part woman," Medusa is so beautiful that Poseidon himself is entranced. When Medusa gloats privately that she is more beautiful than Athena, the wrathful goddess rises up, changes her into a snake-haired gorgon, and then pushes young Perseus into hunting her down and beheading her. The penalty's extremity makes Medusa something of a tragic figure, and she looks in Lattimore's swirling, patterned paintings more magnificent than hideous—even beautiful in a scaly, pointy-toothed way. Though the tale is fleshed out with the first part of the story of Perseus, the "hero" comes off as barely more than an instrument of divine will here; expand standard versions of the myth, such as Warwick Hutton's Perseus (1993), with this female-centered take. (Picture book/folk tale. 8-10)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

Cinderella meets Halloween in a twist on the old story, in which Lattimore (The Fool and the Phoenix, p. 951, etc.) capitalizes on dirt and the assumption that children revel in it. Cinderhazel and her broom-wielding stepsister-witches await the Witches' Halloween Ball. When the stepsisters command her to stop sweeping and go fly a broom, she retorts, ``This is what I'm good at! D-I-R-T!'' Her witchy godmother persuades her to go to the ball by tempting her with 15 filthy fireplaces at Prince Alarming's palace and changing her cracked broom into a smoke-spewing, high-flying vacuum cleaner. The more dirt the better is the slogan at the heart of this one-joke story, whose humor relies on mess rather than magic. Mutual love of dirt is what unites this ornery witch with her dirtball prince and they live ``filthily ever after.'' The feverishly smudged illustrations depict look-alike potato-faced witches amidst a constant swirling tornado of witch hats, brooms, soot, spiders, and party decorations. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 30, 1997

In this original tale of a mute birdcatcher who nets a phoenix and saves his village from a bandit, Lattimore (Arabian Nights, 1995, etc.) shows little of the zeal for authenticity and depth of research that characterize her other works. In feudal Japan, the shogun has threatened to burn down a village he believes is harboring his stolen treasure. Hideo, the birdcatcher, sees a scar on a passing bandit's forehead and an identical one on Nobu, head of the village council, but fails to connect the two until after he frees and falls in love with a phoenix, and then performs several random good deeds. After trying to kill Hideo—who is speechless and unable to defend himself—for the thievery, Nobu hears the phoenix's accusation and instantly confesses all. Hideo and the phoenix disappear into a tree and are last seen, many years later, flying off wing in wing (though the illustration depicts an odd, birdlike creature with two heads on a single body). The intricately brushed scenes are backed by foamy trails of dingy-looking mist to go with the heavily contrived plot. A somewhat superficial background note is appended, which wrongly implies that the legend of the phoenix is a Japanese story, when it is actually found in many cultures. (Picture book. 7-9) Read full book review >
GITTEL'S HANDS by Erica Silverman
Released: March 1, 1996

Elijah makes a miraculous appearance in this Passover tale of a boastful father and his wise and compassionate daughter, Gittel. To pay a debt, Yakov makes exaggerated guarantees of Gittel's handiwork and loses his means for earning a living. Gittel's kindness toward a trapped dove, a starving cat, and a shivering beggar earn the intervention of the prophet Elijah, who provides her with the tools and skill to make exquisite silver goods for the Passover seder, ensuring a fine livelihood for her and her chastened father. Silverman (Fixing the Crack of Dawn, 1994, etc.) renders Gittel's story in the manner of a folktale, burnished with motifs from the Rumpelstiltskin story. Lattimore, taking her cue from Chagall, creates scenes alight with the rhythms and colors of stained glass, where pink doves and green cats mingle with the floating figures and dancing houses of a snowbound shtetl. Readers familiar with Passover traditions will love the story most; others will find the glossary a useful page for learning more. (Picture book/folklore. 7+) Read full book review >
ARABIAN NIGHTS by Deborah Nourse Lattimore
Released: Sept. 30, 1995

The lessons of three tales unfold plainly without any preaching. In the first, Aladdin rises from his humble beginnings by a magical opportunity that is tempered by his generosity and good nature. In the second, a serpent Queen sacrifices herself so a king can live and knowledge can be passed on. In the last, the mysteries of a lost city are revealed. The thrilling voice of a master storyteller resounds throughout these tales. Lattimore (Punga, 1993, etc.) conveys her affection for the material in unadorned prose suffused with tenderness and offers readers a refreshing trip through ancient lands. Offsetting the text-heavy pages are captivating illustrations. Soaked in the details and ornamentation of a remote world, they are colorful yet retain a moodiness that deepens the exotic atmosphere. (Picture book/folklore. 6-10) Read full book review >
PUNGA by Deborah Nourse Lattimore
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

An art historian who's created picture books on several cultures (The Winged Cat, 1992) explores the Maori custom of sticking out the tongue in a way that's considered beautiful, especially during the haka dance. Sisters Kiri and Maraweia must learn to do this to earn a moko (chin tattoo), but Maraweia keeps making silly faces. Grandmother warns that she'll meet the fate of Mudfish and Lizard, who ``wiggled their tongues in a very ugly way'' and were entrapped as wood figures on Punga's lodge. Sure enough, Maraweia is so caught; but Kiri confronts the goddess and persuades her to free her so that, together, they can show her the haka as it should be danced—and, magically, their tattoos appear. A note and glossary place the invented tale somewhat in context, but more precise details about the role of Maori tradition would have been welcome. Still, the meaning the Maori attach to this classic gesture will intrigue; while Lattimore's art—with its vibrant, humorous characters, detailed Maori carvings, and dozens of other faces and species to spy in a freely rendered, lush green setting—is, once again, the book's strength. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
Released: May 30, 1992

Merit, temple servant, has seen Waha, Pharaoh's High Priest, drown a sacred cat. When Waha denies his crime, Pharaoh sends him and Merit to the Netherworld, where their hearts will be weighed against the feather of Truth. The dead cat's spirit guides Merit, assuring her safety if she can read the signs that open the Netherworld's 12 gates. Lacking her skill, Waha throws effigies into the jaws of the waiting monsters, but the golden amulet he offers is far heavier than the feather and he is devoured. The cat is given another life, and Pharaoh rewards Merit. The illustrations here—in shades of green, blue, gold, and brown against backgrounds brushed to look like papyrus or linen— are sumptuous, filled with hieroglyphics and ancient Egyptian symbols and decorative motifs. But the pictures' elegance is not matched by Lattimore's original story, which is rather muddled and sometimes arbitrary—e.g., the golden amulet that outweighs Truth was earlier described as floating in a river, and it's not clear why a serving girl can read but the High Priest can't. Like some of Lattimore's other earnest attempts to mine the past, a mixed effort. (Picture book. 7-10) Read full book review >

The Popol Vuh, sacred history of the ancient Maya in Guatemala, survives only in an altered, much later Latin copy. Hamilton included its creation myth in her collection, In the Beginning (1988); now Lattimore (whose first picture book, The Flame of Peace, 1987, was an original story about the Aztecs) uses several Mayan sources, including stonework and painted art, for her version of the same myth—which has marked similarities to and differences from Hamilton's. In each case the Creator God, having made a world with plants and animals, wishes for beings who are capable of worshipping the gods. Here, three gods compete in this task: Lizard House makes people of mud, who cannot think; Moon Goddess fashions hers of wood (hardly better, although some become monkeys); and the Maize God succeeds in combining spirits with the people who grow front the seeds he sows—people who kneel to worship their creators and thus earn the Maize God the right to sit on the high throne. Lattimore, an art historian and archaeologist, shapes this complex myth into a narrative that is entertaining as well as instructive. Her striking illustrations effectively combine blue-gray figures, as if in Mayan stone, with settings and additional figures glowing with the colors of life: earth red, green, sky blue. More fine work from an illustrator whose first books attracted unusual interest. Read full book review >