"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I Know-Not-What, I-Know-Not-Where: a Russian Tale

I-Know-Not-What, I-Know-Not-Where: A Russian Tale adapted by Eric Kimmel, Illus. by Robert Sauber, 1994.

Kimmel retells this story from Russian Tales and Legends by Charles Downing (1957) in a beautifully illustrated, sixty three page chapter book. Many familiar motifs appear, such as a flying ship, a golden egg, and a giant’s treasure, as well as our favorite fearsome witch, Baba Yaga, who in this story  is a loving grandmother. The tale begins when Frol decides to serve the czar’s army to save his married older and sickly younger brothers the burden. Out in the world, he befriends a magical storytelling dove, Frolya, who concocts a plan for him to catch the czar’s eye. Unfortunately, the ruler desires the lovely bird himself, and his unscrupulous minister Bakbul Bakbulich and his wife keep coming up with plots to be rid of Frol. Accordingly, a wondrous tale unfolds from imps tormenting the spirit of the czar’s father to Kot Buyan, an enormous, unfriendly talking cat to an invisible servant named Nobody, who helps Frol triumph and save his beloved Frolya.

The tale is illustrated with eight color plates by Robert Sauber. He easily covers the range between frightening: Frol’s confrontation with Kot Buyan, a gigantic, fierce looking black cat with wicked claws, and tender: Frol with his new czarina, dressed in splendid costume and looking at each other lovingly. Another fine illustration shows Frol’s thoughts of war, with him holding a sword and a club in his hands. The club seems to billow into black smoke on a battlefield while Frolya, dressed in white, covers her ears against the vision. Sauber makes details pop, such as the purple feather in Bakbulich’s hat against an orange sky, a sparkle of enchanted light around the little white dove and a huge and menacing black spider in the gable of Baba Yaga’s house.

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