Natasha, deprived of maternal love by her mother’s death but adored by her farmer father, grows into a selfish young woman in this original tale “inspired by the Russian folk tradition” and first published in France.
She “grumpily” gives an old woman, accompanied by a beautiful blue bird, an apple and is granted one wish: a palace in which “I can invent all kinds of different rooms whenever I like.” The old woman imposes an important caveat. “You will not be able to leave this magical palace.” At first, Natasha is happy but grows tired of her solitude. Wishing for the old woman to reverse the situation, she is transformed into the blue bird for an evening flight. She sees the poverty of so many in the world and returns to her palace, a changed woman. She gives up her many rooms and begins to make bread and jam for the poor. Every night, as the blue bird, she distributes her gifts. Finally the old woman arrives, praises Natasha’s charity, and sends her home to find her father. The moral of the story is obvious, but the translated text is smooth. The sumptuous, stylized, full-bleed, double-page acrylic paintings, with jewellike colors dominated by blues are a delight, with their swirling designs and Slavic details. Hénaff depicts Natasha as an olive-skinned young woman with long, dark hair.
With its folkloric elements, positive but not preachy message about sharing, and strong visual presentation, this will make an excellent read-aloud. (Picture book. 6-9)