A story that richly integrates a fairy tale, history, and a coming-of-age quest.

VASILISA

In this middle-grade fantasy/historical novel, a Russian American girl journeys into folklore to confront witches and save her family.

Vasilisa Petrovna Nikolayeva and her Babka (grandmother) were both named for Vasilisa the Brave, the Russian fairy-tale hero who overcomes Baba Yaga, a fearsome witch. Now 13 years old, Vasilisa still loves to hear her mother and grandmother tell the stories, which link their present-day lives in the 1919 steel town of Edenfall, Pennsylvania, to their homeland. The three cling even closer because Vasilisa’s Papa has been missing since fighting in the trenches near Flanders, presumed dead. The family’s financial difficulties have been lessened by the frightening Mr. Goladyen, also a Russian immigrant, who is pressuring Vasilisa’s mother to marry him. Further, Vasilisa suspects he has something to do with her once-hale grandmother’s sudden decline into confusion and weakness. Meanwhile, Ivan Ivanovich Volkonsky arrives in Edenfall, having promised his dying father to help the elder Vasilisa. Discovering that Mr. Goladyen was his father’s betrayer, Ivan vows revenge. To set things right, young Vasilisa and Ivan must go on a quest to legendary Old Rus, face three Baba Yaga witches, and find an ogre’s egg. In this series opener, Mathison offers two intriguing settings from history and myth, both with their own spooky mysteries, hardships, helpers, and villains. While the Edenfall scenes are well drawn, the storytelling becomes truly compelling in Old Rus, as myth comes vividly to life. The latter setting also better fits the book’s literary, Old World phrasing used throughout (such as, “Always was my daughter thus”), which feels jarring against Edenfall’s slangy American voices (“What a whopper”). Though usually a graceful writer, the author overuses quirk as a transitive verb.

A story that richly integrates a fairy tale, history, and a coming-of-age quest.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73500-374-0

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Starr Creek Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2021

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IF THAT BREATHES FIRE, WE'RE TOAST!

Tucson gives a young San Diegan a warm welcome in more ways than one in this relaxed, readable debut. Rick Morales isn’t all that happy to be moving with his mother, Sylvia, to another state, but meeting Natalie, a friendly girl, and Madam [sic] Yang, a collie-sized, 500-year-old dragon, soon puts him into better spirits. Madam Yang does not grant wishes (“Do I look like a genie? You’ve been mythinformed”), but does breathe fire, and volunteers to transport Rick, Natalie, and her little brother, Ben, into magical adventures. Weaving in a budding romance between Sylvia and a local veterinarian, Stewart decorates the plot with comic set pieces, such as an ugly pet contest and a nearly disastrous encounter between Madam Yang and Nat’s deliciously princess-like cousin Olivia. Although everyone tends to take Madam Yang so much in stride that she seems more an exotic pet than an Event, the likable cast and tongue-in-cheek humor will keep readers turning the pages. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: May 15, 1999

ISBN: 0-8234-1430-2

Page Count: 117

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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A BIG CHEESE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

THE TRUE TALE OF A TREMENDOUS CHEDDAR

The author and illustrator bring to life an incident right out of history in this droll picture book enhanced by lively, color- washed pen-and-ink drawings. In Cheshire, Massachusetts, the home of mouth-watering cheese, the local residents grumble that President Jefferson is serving cheese from Norton, Connecticut, at the White House. “I have an idea,” says Elder John Leland to the assembled town folk, “If each of you will give one day’s milking from each of your many cows, we can put our curds together and create a whopping big cheddar.” Although some people scoff, the farmers bring load after load of milk—from 934 cows—to town and they set about making an enormous cheese. There are problems along the way, but eventually the giant cheese is dragged to a barn to age. At last it is perfect, and Mr. Leland and friends start the long haul to the East Room of White House. In a foreword, the author explains the truth and fiction in the tale, e.g., that the presidential residence wasn’t called the White House until about 1809. A humorous tale with a wide range of appeal and uses in and out of the classroom. (Picture book. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7894-2573-4

Page Count: 30

Publisher: DK Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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