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

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Language of Birds folktale

The Language of Birds by Rafe Martin, Illus. By Susan Gaber, 2000.

In an author’s note after the story, Martin explains that he found this skazki (folktale) in Russian Wonder Tales (Post Wheeler, 1912). In it, two brothers are sent into the world by their father with ten gold coins each. They are to return to him in a week and show what they have done with their money. The oldest, Vasilii, squanders his money at the fair. Younger brother Ivan doesn’t spend his coin, but uses the week learning the language of birds. This enrages his father and amuses Vasilii. Eventually, though, Ivan’s new gift pays off when he saves a ship from a storm and pirates and outdoes his brother at ridding the Czar’s yard of crows. The Czar’s daughter falls for him and he marries her, becoming a prince. And who told the narrator such a story? A little bird that flew to his window.

This is another picture book with outstanding art. The cover is striking, with a side profile of Ivan overlapped by a black bird. It is positioned so that the bird’s blue eye is where Ivan’s would also be. The result is that Ivan looks like he is wearing a carnival mask. Inside, dramatic scenes unfold, like the ship tossed by black cresting water under a lightning torn sky or a dark spiral of crows flying around the Czar’s palace. Gaber uses rich colors creating emerald seas, brilliant red skies and the burnished bronze walls in Ivan’s father’s home. Each picture is bordered in black with a bird related design, such as feathers or tracks.

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