Books by Gennady Spirin

THE DEADLIEST CREATURE IN THE WORLD by Brenda Z. Guiberson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 23, 2016

"With well-chosen, clearly conveyed facts and handsome compositions that invite study, this team delivers another fine effort, equally well-suited to family browsing and classroom use. (Informational picture book. 4-8)"
Fourteen creatures lay claim to the title posed in Guiberson's central question: "Who is the deadliest creature in the world?" Read full book review >
THE MOST AMAZING CREATURE IN THE SEA by Brenda Z. Guiberson
CHILDREN'S
Released: June 16, 2015

"Inviting their readers to choose the answer themselves, this skillful author-illustrator pair again encourages their senses of wonder at the natural world. (Informational picture book. 4-8)"
Who is the most amazing creature in the sea? Read full book review >
THE GREATEST DINOSAUR EVER by Brenda Z. Guiberson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2013

"Dino lovers will learn how their favorites stack up. (Informational picture book. 4-8)"
Guiberson presents arguments as to why each of 12 dinosaurs should be considered the greatest—tallest, longest, fastest, smartest, best-armored, etc. Read full book review >
FROG SONG by Brenda Z. Guiberson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 5, 2013

"Another harmonious salute to the natural world by an accomplished pair. (Informational picture book. 4-9)"
In this oversized album, 11 frogs from around the world exemplify the varied ways frogs find enough moisture to keep themselves and their eggs and tadpoles alive. Read full book review >
THE VELVETEEN RABBIT by Margery Williams
ANIMALS
Released: Feb. 1, 2011

Precious as the language sounds to modern ears (the term "nursery magic" alone will likely set the eyes of even preliterate listeners to rolling), Williams' 1922 classic remains a read-aloud standard thanks to the way big themes of life, death and change weave through its seemingly small and largely familiar domestic events. In this sumptuous unabridged edition, Spirin plays to his strengths. Visual grace notes enclose every block of text within open borders composed of finely drawn, Art Nouveau-style curlicues and tiny, naturalistic floral arrangements. These give way to full-page or full-spread close-up views of a flaxen-haired lad with a distant gaze, a treasure house of upscale antique toys rendered in painstaking detail, a winged Fairy dripping flowers and posed in languid, Botticelli curves and a homely, increasingly grubby bunny that is transformed in the final scenes to a live rabbit bursting with lithe, long-limbed vitality. Rendered in semitransparent watercolor and colored pencil, the art has an ethereal look that misses out on the warm intimacy Michael Hague brought to his interpretation (1983; reprinted in 2008), but for technical accomplishment and stateliness overmatches Monique Felix's similarly formal pictures (1994) or the plethora of less-memorable versions. (Picture book. 6-9)Read full book review >
JESUS by King James Holy Bible
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Feb. 1, 2010

The artistic starting point for the luminous illustrations in Spirin's latest exploration of biblical texts is a large tempera painting incorporating scenes from the key events in the life of Christ. This painting, reproduced on a single page at the front of the oversized volume, uses an architectural arrangement with each scene serving as a room or floor of a castle-like structure. The ensuing full-page illustrations are excerpted from the larger painting, as are smaller vignettes of key characters framed within arches on the cover and endpapers. Each illustration is presented with a different format of surrounding pillars, archways or stonework relating to the architectural theme. The elegant paintings are filled with exquisite details in costumes and settings, accented with his signature use of golden highlights that convey a Renaissance flavor. While both the overall design and the illustrations are artistically stunning, the use of the King James Version of the biblical texts and the formal composition of the illustrations are not child-friendly, making this of most interest to adult collectors. (Religion/picture book. 7-10) Read full book review >
THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS by Gennady Spirin
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2009

Spirin's immediately recognizable artistic style stands out in another arresting interpretation of a traditional text (Goldilocks and the Three Bears, 2009, etc.). His highly detailed watercolor-and-colored-pencil illustrations present in each opening an oval painting against a text page bordered in garlands of pears and leaves. His signature touches of gold are seen in the pears and in details of the costumes of the song characters, as well as in the text as the top of the pages defining the particular numerical day of Christmas. Succeeding illustrations become more and more crowded with all the added characters from the song, but each tiny animal as well as all the maids, ladies, lords, pipers and drummers can still be counted. The final pages provide the musical score and a note about the origins of the song. Lovely. (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
LIFE IN THE BOREAL FOREST by Brenda Z. Guiberson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2009

Stretching around the far north of our world, the boreal forest is a unique ecosystem facing a variety of threats. The tone of this attractively designed introduction is set by the attacking lynx on the cover and the somber gray-green forest scene on the endpapers. Detailed watercolors in dark reds and browns fill three-quarters of each double-page spread, while cogent text appears along one side, describing the inhabitants and stressing the interdependent and cyclical nature of their world. Onomatopoetic words ("Ker lee loo!" call the whooping cranes) add another sensory image. This oversized picture book will read aloud well; in most cases the illustrated figures are large enough for members of a small group to pick out the animals: whooping cranes, beavers, a berry-eating bear, a caribou searching for lichen. Plants are included as well, from fir trees to carnivorous pitcher plants. A list of organizations involved in preserving the boreal forest appears opposite the copyright page, and an author's note at the end adds a short explanation of the importance of this unusual, endangered environment. Beautiful and useful. (Informational picture book. 4-9)Read full book review >
GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS by Gennady Spirin
ANIMALS
Released: March 1, 2009

Dozens of visions of Goldilocks, both rustic and refined, have skipped their way through children's books, but none as elegantly as this one. Spirin has edited the story down to "bear bones" and has lavished it with his signature finely detailed watercolor-and-colored pencil artwork. The bears are dressed in exquisite Renaissance costumes while retaining their ursine features, including teeth and claws. Textures in the fabrics, furniture and fur are extremely realistic, heightened by the white backgrounds and handsome page compositions with calligraphic decorations. The illustrations imbue each bear with personality, and Goldilocks is blue-eyed, golden-tressed and utterly charming. The ending? Goldilocks wakes up, runs out of the house and each bear says, "Bye." This gilding of a classic fairy tale is pure gold. An author's note about the story's origin provides a remarkably detailed history for all its just-right brevity (Picture book/folktale. 3-8)Read full book review >
GENNADY SPIRIN’S CREATION by Gennady Spirin
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2008

Spirin continues his recent exploration of biblical themes with this attractive interpretation of the creation story. The volume's striking cover shows the earth in concentric layers of animals and plants, surrounding Adam and Eve at the center. Spirin's immediately recognizable watercolor illustrations are full of intricate details and delicate patterned elements, with each illustration formatted as a half circle or arched shape suggesting a stained-glass window. Throughout the work Spirin uses the unifying design element of small angel faces surrounded by multiple sets of patterned wings, with a different pair of angels on each page. Similar wings are seen in several illustrations of God, interpreted by Spirin as a mysterious and changing figure with human characteristics. God is depicted at first as an angelic spirit and then as a human figure with a rather scary face of white light and a long, white beard. There is no indication in the text or jacket flap copy that the creation story is from the beginning of the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, simply that it comes from the Bible. (artist's note, publisher's note) (Religion. 4-8)Read full book review >
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD by Gennady Spirin
RELIGION
Released: Jan. 1, 2008

Spirin continues his series of illustrated Bible stories with this individualistic and somewhat mysterious interpretation of the beloved Twenty-Third Psalm. The familiar words of the psalm are artfully set on parchment scrolls stretched across the bottom of the pages in an elegant design. Spirin's intricately detailed oil paintings use scenes and images from the life of King David, thought to be the author of many of the Psalms. The cover and the first spread show an image of the young David as a shepherd boy, tending lambs playing peaceably next to a regal lion, while the title page and a later spread show a mature King David seated on his throne with his harp, surrounded by angels. The richly colored oil paintings are infused with Spirin's signature golden light, complemented by the volume's gold endpapers and the title's gold lettering. The final page is a fold-out poster revealing a large painting; all the illustrations in the volume are smaller images from this larger work. Though the religious symbolism in the illustrations will be familiar to many, other symbols and images are less certain, and an illustrator's note of explanation would have made the volume more accessible to those less familiar with biblical history. (Nonfiction. 5-adult)Read full book review >
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Clement C. Moore
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2006

A most unusual title page sets the magical tone for this distinctive interpretation of Moore's classic Christmas poem. A full moon on the left-hand page encloses the author and illustrator information, with the volume's title spelled out across the bottom of the spread by the twisted branches of snow-topped trees. Santa and his reindeer soar overhead all the way to the edge of the right-hand page, leading the reader right into the story. The narrator of this version is a wide-eyed young boy who peers out the window in amazement and then creeps down the stairs to meet St. Nicholas as he fills the stockings. Spirin's sumptuous illustrations with touches of gold have a subtle glow provided by firelight or moonlight, with striking shadows courtesy of the full moon. A wordless spread in the center of the volume offers a dramatic pause with a full view of the sleigh and the reindeer in flight, golden sleigh bells glistening. The Victorian setting is complemented by an old-fashioned typeface and a tall, painted clock noting the midnight hour next to each verse of the poem. (author's note) (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
A APPLE PIE by Gennady Spirin
ABC BOOKS
Released: Sept. 1, 2005

Far from being just another abecedarium, Spirin's signature finely lined, captivating watercolors stretch the parameters with his engaging interpretation of the English nursery rhyme. As exuberant children follow the merry fortunes of this gargantuan apple pie, the artwork is filled with delicious Victorian detail, creating a story in which the letters play characters. Each letter is scripted at the top in four or five type styles as: "B bit it; C cut it; D dealt it; E eats it." An apple in the corner of each scene adds a sub-motif of intertwined animals and birds: grasshopper sitting on top for "G"; nightingale atop for "N." Filled with diminutive detailing of fabric patterns, clothing folds, wisps of hair, rose vines, even clover in the grass, readers will pore over the pages brimming with germane activities. With Anno-like precision, Sis-like intricacy and the charm of Greenaway apparel, Spirin has fashioned an amazing work of art with outstanding creativity. From A to Z, absolutely delectable. (Picture book. All ages)Read full book review >
MARTHA by Gennady Spirin
ANIMALS
Released: April 1, 2005

Spirin's illustrations always gladden the heart, and here his meticulous and sumptuous watercolors highlight a familiar family tale. It tells, with simplicity and affection, of the time when his then five-year-old son Ilya brought home an injured crow from a snowy park in Moscow. Although the veterinarian recommends destroying the bird, Ilya and his mother Raya instead take it back home, nurse it and feed it. Ilya names the crow Martha, and it lives in a basket by his father's drawing table. Martha learns to fly again (Spirin's head becomes a favorite launching perch), and one day leaves via an open window, but at the end of the summer a mother crow and her babies nest outside of that window—Ilya believes it is Martha returned. The pictures are so full of color and life that children will feel they can reach out to stroke Martha's wing, or the objects on the drawing table, or Raya's beautiful floral wool shawl. A little slice of life—about life. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
THE STORY OF NOAH AND THE ARK by King James Bible
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2004

Spirin's detailed, luminous paintings provide a traditional interpretation of the familiar Old Testament story, using the old-fashioned, measured cadences of the King James Bible as the text. The elegant design includes text blocks incorporated into illustrations of God as a white-haired old man looking down from his heaven or depictions of Noah looking out of portholes in the Ark. These facing text pages utilize mirror images in the illustrated elements, subtly reinforcing the two-by-two theme. A recurring circular inset in the upper corners of the text pages includes the relevant Bible verse citations or a related illustration, such as the dove returning with an olive leaf. The pages relating the story are interspersed with wordless spreads that allow Spirin more freedom to explore the sweep of the story by showing the enormous Ark, the parade of intriguing animal pairs, and the surging waters of the flood overshadowed by black clouds. These spreads have a mysteriously dusky lighting giving them the look of old masterpieces from a long-gone era. (poster) (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-9)Read full book review >
MOSES by Ann Keay Beneduce
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Feb. 1, 2004

Beneduce retells stories from the life of Moses in a fictionalized biography style told in contemporary language, using both the Torah and the King James Bible as references. The freely flowing text includes the story of Moses as a baby with his sister Miriam, a summary of his younger days, and then focuses on Moses leading the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt after many punishments sent by God to the Pharaoh and his people. An epilogue summarizes the remainder of the life of Moses, including the approximate time setting of the events. Spirin's detailed and light-filled pencil-and-watercolor illustrations bring the old tales to life: Miriam and baby Moses in his basket, the plagues of snakes and frogs, Moses thrusting his rod toward the sky to unleash a storm. The volume's exquisite design includes some illustrated pages with panels incorporating passages of biblical text and smaller spot illustrations at the bottom of many pages adding details and visual interest. (author's note) (Nonfiction. 6-10)Read full book review >
SIMEON’S GIFT by Julie Andrews Edwards
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2003

In a time of "castles and monasteries," a poor young man named Simeon plays his lute for all and loves a noblewoman, Sorrel. He's ashamed that he has little to offer her, so he goes on a journey to open himself to more music. The percussion of soldiers, the chant of monks, even the cacophony of the city inspire him, but he feels lost and overwhelmed. He trades his lute for a boat home, saves a bird, fish, and fawn who follow him on his way (musically, of course), cuts a reed from the riverbank to make a flute, and when he arrives home finds a perfect melody in his heart for Sorrel and for all. The illustrations are in Spirin's blindingly gorgeous style: echoes of Florentine and Venetian architecture, French manuscript painting, and Renaissance portraits make a beautiful and evocative whole. The story rather bobbles and clunks along, though, with the weight of too many words and perhaps not a clear enough melody. (CD of Andrews reading) (Picture book. 6-9)Read full book review >
THE TALE OF THE FIREBIRD by Gennady Spirin
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

Exquisite design and delicately elaborate illustration evoking the finely burnished gilt tradition of classic Russian lacquer ware transport the reader to once-upon-a-time and the faraway kingdom of Tsar Vasilyi. Each night, a fabulous peacock-like bird, with feathers of fiery magnificence, pilfers the fruit of the Tsar's exotic golden-apple tree. Vasilyi covets the bird, and he promises great rewards to the one who can capture and deliver this wondrous creature. This beautifully articulated translation of the traditional tale in which the youngest of three sons must conquer his impulses and complete a royal quest, is rife with verbal and visual motifs that invite the reader to slow down, to scrutinize, and to appreciate every aspect of this story of second chances and of learning from one's mistakes. The conflict between good and evil, between the strengths and weaknesses of human nature, is subtly communicated in the ingenious use of positive and negative space on alternating pages. Visual detail is enhanced by watercolor work so fine, it seems it could only have been wrought with a single hair of the great gray wolf who carries the earnest hero, Ivan-Tsarevitch, soaring over opulent, onion-domed rooftops toward the fulfillment of his promises and the hard-won rewards of a man of honor. Readers will find this version less cumbersome than others in which the Firebird is sometimes bird, sometimes woman, and which often include a much larger cast of characters and distracting, gruesome scenes. Here, the message is illuminated, not obscured, by the medium and the manner in which it is offered. Masterful. (Picture book/folktale. 5-12)Read full book review >
PHILIPOK by Leo Tolstoy
by Leo Tolstoy, adapted by Ann Keay Beneduce, illustrated by Gennady Spirin
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2000

A children's story by the great storyteller, set in the wintry scenes of a Russian village. Philipok wants to go to school so badly that he puts on his hat and starts to follow his big brother right out the door. His mother gently tells him that he is too young and must stay home. Undeterred, he decides to take matters into his own hands and, one morning when no one is looking, sneaks out of the house and heads across the village to school. On the school's doorstep, he loses his nerve, but is shooed in by a passing grown-up. Once inside, he is intimidated by the noise and activity in the room full of children. Challenged, he shows off his knowledge and demonstrates that he (more or less) knows the alphabet. To his utter delight, the teacher declares that Philipok is indeed ready for school and can join the other children in the classroom. Spirin's illustrations are less sophisticated than usual, but that makes this book all the more accessible to younger children. While the palette is subtle, with many browns and grays, there are touches of gold—the church steeple, the boy's hair—and the children's faces are sweet and appealing. No one can paint snow and fur like Spirin, and there are lovely touches of color, including the quilt on the bed and the flowers on the shawls the women wear. The double-paged spread that shows Philipok playing with his colorful toys and book is especially inviting. The language is uninspired and the story slight, but the theme will appeal, especially to those who can't wait to be grown enough to begin the same activities as their older siblings. All will admire Philipok's bravery in traveling alone across the sometimes scary village. Not as substantial a story as Kashtanka, the Chekhov story also illustrated by Spirin, but certainly not without its charms. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
THE EASTER STORY by Gennady Spirin
Released: March 1, 1999

Spirin illustrates excerpts from the King James Bible in a luminous Italian Renaissance style. A haloed Jesus is the bright light among the ghost-like masses; only he and the angels shine in the dark city next to texts from Matthew, Luke, and John. The subtle palette is enhanced by the detail in gilded armor, jeweled costumes, city buildings, and agrarian landscapes. This book serves as an artful introduction to the popular Bible stories, with appeal for those fond of ornate, formal treatments. (Picture book. 5-10) Read full book review >
THE CRANE WIFE by Odds Bodkin
adapted by Odds Bodkin, illustrated by Gennady Spirin
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

This rendition of the bittersweet Japanese tale about the lonely sail-maker Osamu, who finds and then loses his perfect mate, is a poetic gem. One night a lone crane is injured in a storm. Osamu nurses the crane back to health, and soon it flies away. During the next storm a beautiful woman, Yukiko, knocks on the sail-maker's door. Osamu takes her in, and they fall in love. When they run out of money Yukiko weaves wonderful magic sails that Osamu sells for gold, promising that he will never look at her while she weaves. As the story goes, he breaks that promise. Bodkin's retelling of the story is careful and his descriptions glow, dense with detail despite the spare use of words: "Autumn came, the season of storms. Red leaves fell on the dark wood of his porch." Spirin's watercolor illustrations, making full reference to Japanese style, are lyrical and atmospheric, portraying both climate and landscape, characters and emotions. An exquisite and memorable volume. (Picture book/folklore. 5-10) Read full book review >
THE TALE OF TSAR SALTAN by Alexander Pushkin
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

A tale by Pushkin, based—according to the copyright page—on a translation by Pauline Hejl and adapted for the picture-book form. A trio of evil women—two sisters and the tsar's cousin—vow to destroy the young woman whom the tsar chooses to marry. Plotting against her, they have her and her infant son sealed inside a barrel and thrown into the sea. An enchanted swan effects a magical destiny for them, and the tsar, his wife, and their son are eventually reunited. The convoluted tale describes three journeys back and forth, the length and details of which lessen the impact of the matter-of-fact telling. The text becomes particularly confusing when the son of the tsar's wife marries a ``tsar's daughter,'' without offering readers a clue as to how the word tsar is used. The story is little more than a beam on which to hang the artwork: delicately executed, intricate paintings of scenery and costume, animals and magical events, in which Spirin shows Russian culture in all its splendor. (Picture book/folklore. 5-8) Read full book review >
THE TEMPEST by Ann Keay Beneduce
adapted by Ann Keay Beneduce, illustrated by Gennady Spirin
CLASSICS
Released: March 19, 1996

Beneduce (A Weekend With Winslow Homer, 1993, etc.) retells Shakespeare's play in a text that reads like a fairy tale. This version emphasizes first the love story between Miranda and Ferdinand and then Prospero's forgiveness of his enemies. Some of the subplots have been eliminated (for reasons given in a careful author's note), but several songs and speeches have been folded into the story, much of which is told in dialogue. Spirin's beautiful watercolors are done in the manner of Renaissance paintings, even to the effect of old varnish affecting the tones. The scenes echo the narrative's focus on the enchantments of the play, presenting beasts worthy of Hieronymous Bosch and gentle spirits to rival the angels of Botticelli. This gorgeous picture book will be particularly useful in high school collections, for the story in the art sets the stage for this Renaissance drama. Recommended for public and school libraries: Not only does it work as a read-alone story but will prepare theatergoers for a performance of the full play. (notes) (Picture book. 8+) Read full book review >
KASHTANKA by Anton Chekhov
by Anton Chekhov, translated by Ronald Meyer, illustrated by Gennady Spirin
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

The heroine of Chekhov's short story is a dog who gets lost and is adopted by a clown. The clown gives her a new name and trains her, but during her first circus performance, Kashtanka hears her old name called, sees her former owner in the balcony, and runs back to her old life. Spirin (Snow White & Rose Red, 1992) exquisitely illustrates these scenes, and readers will easily spend as much time on the pictures as on the words. Highly imaginative compositions are vividly detailed down to the last wood shaving of a cabinetmaker's shop, and exhibit a kind of stylized realism. The position of every object and every posture matters, yet the illustrations are showy not at the expense of the story, but by echoing the text in all respects. They amplify and enlarge the tale: It's not a book, it's a performance. (Picture book. 8+) Read full book review >
THE FROG PRINCESS by J. Patrick Lewis
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 1994

A prince marries a frog—it's a long story. It so happens that this croaker princess can outsew, outcook, and outdance the other court princesses, but only when she slips from her skin to become the beautiful Vasilia the Wise (a trick she performs when no one is watching, like Superman). Unfortunately, her husband the prince happens across her frog togs one night while she is in her Vasilia mode and burns the unwanted exterior so that his wife will remain forever radiant. Bad mistake. It turns out that Vasilia had a mere three days left to fulfill a curse her sinister father cast on her, yet now, without her skins, she will never see the prince again unless he can find her in the Kingdom beyond Blue Kingdoms. It is a long, mean search (including the obligatory visit to Baba Yaga; these days you can't throw a brick without hitting Baba Yaga in one form or another). Eventually, the prince succeeds in wresting Vasilia from the evil one. A nice gender twist on an old tale, paced to keep things moving. Spirin's illustrations command attention with detailing worthy of FabergÇ, although their fussiness can cause a visual overload. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian tales have been thick on the ground, some better than others. This one is worth a look. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
GULLIVER'S ADVENTURES IN LILLIPUT by Jonathan Swift
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 27, 1993

A tastefully abridged version of Gulliver's first adventure. Despite severe shortening and some rephrasing, Beneduce preserves continuity as well as the flavor of Swift's narrative, and even a soupáon of its satire—``...members of the government are chosen not for their character or intelligence, but for their skill at rope-dancing.'' Spirin's elaborate borders and paintings have an appropriately antique look, combining the dress and artistic conventions of several historical periods with darkened colors and a yellowish cast suggesting the patina of old varnish. A richly comic teaser for Riordan's earthier adaptation (Gulliver's Travels, 1992) or even the timeless original. (Picture book. 9-12) Read full book review >
THE CHILDREN OF LIR by Sheila MacGill-Callahan
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 1993

In a tale ``loosely based on an Irish myth,'' Lir's four children are turned into swans by jealous stepmother Aiofe, who grants them just one day a year in their true form—but ``on that day your feet may not touch the earth or you will surely die.'' They find refuge on a whale's back; still, she pursues them relentlessly until the spell is broken by friendly birds who form an arch to join two mountains—the ``Man from the North'' and the ``Woman from the South.'' In the original, these are a man and woman, from warring tribes, who marry; 900 years have elapsed; and the aged children join Lir in heaven—this isn't for purists, but it makes a dramatic story in a folkloric style. The Russian- born Spirin uses watercolors to create lush formal paintings in his neo-Renaissance style, with romantic landscapes and ornately clad figures; best are his sinuous, beautifully painted swans and sea mammals. A bit pretentious, but undeniably handsome. (Folklore/Picture book. 5-10) Read full book review >
SNOW WHITE AND ROSE RED by The Brothers Grimm
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 4, 1992

A slightly updated text based on May Sellars's 19th-century translation of the story about two sisters who not only befriend a bear who's really a prince but rescue—three times—the peculiarly ungrateful gnome (``dwarf'' in other editions) who enchanted the prince and stole his treasure. Of particular interest here is the Russian illustrator's delicate watercolor art, in rich, golden tones and fine detail more often seen in oils. Spirin's traditional composition and style have an old- fashioned appeal; the girls (shown as children; the wedding takes place ``years later'' here) have some liveliness, and the bear is appropriately awesome, but the tiny gnome doesn't have much character. Lush and handsome, but without the storytelling verve of Barbara Cooney's freer illustrations (1965, 1991). (Folklore/Picture book. 4-10) Read full book review >
BOOTS AND THE GLASS MOUNTAIN by Claire Martin
CHILDREN'S
Released: June 1, 1992

A restructuring of Asbjornsen and Moe's ``The Princess on the Glass Hill.'' Martin modernizes the language, prunes descriptions and repetitions, and adds unnecessary explanations, a romantic source for Boots's tinderbox, and the threat of a troll groom if the princess's suitors fail. The result is acceptable, though hardly an improvement: more accessible, but without the wonderful folkloric cadence of the traditional Dasent or Lang versions. The extraordinary Russian illustrator provides sumptuous paintings in a meticulous classical style, more ornate and detailed than Thomas Locker's work but also livelier. Elegant borders, beautifully patterned fabrics, and other minutiae combine for a rich, decorative effect. Most of the faces here are too small to reveal much character (too bad: Spirin's a gifted caricaturist), but the horses are magnificent. This Cinderella variant doesn't really need such a lush setting, but many will enjoy it. (Folklore/Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
SOROTCHINTZY FAIR by Nikolai Gogol
by Nikolai Gogol, adapted by Sybil Schonfeldt, illustrated by Gennady Spirin, translated by Daniel Reynolds
FAIRY TALES, FOLKTALES AND MYTHS
Released: April 10, 1991

First, this is not Gogol's lengthy original—a ribald, satirical picture of village life in the Ukraine, a story that turns on peasant gullibility, takes anti-Semitism for granted (Gogol is also merciless toward women, and everyone else), and is as rich in pungent detail as Washington Irving's tales—a grand piece of social history that would surely be problematic out of context, by one of Russia's 19th-century masters. Now, this text: reduced to one-fifth, a faithful outline of most of the events, this American translation of a German adaptation for children reads well enough, but almost all of Gogol's vibrant tapestry of peasant life has vanished, along with so many details of plot and character that the truncated remnant is puzzling at best—it's not even clear that the devils here are figments of rural credulity. But Spirin's illustrations, evidently inspired by the full text, are splendid. Known for his lush, romantic paintings for fairy tales (most recently The White Cat, 1990), this Russian artist uses his considerable skill here to far more interesting effect. Swirling, Brueghel-like crowds of lusty peasants—some rendered in vivid hues and others, drained of color, in a cinematic haze—mix with half-fantastic pigs and devils that seem to protrude through rips in the parchment-like paper: superb, imaginative response to Gogol's earthy story. The two belong together (publisher, please note!); meanwhile, these illustrations are too good to miss. (Fiction/Picture book. 8+) Read full book review >