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

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Masha and the Firebird

Masha and the Firebird by Margaret Bateson-Hill and Anne Wilson, 1999.

This is an original story by Bateson-Hill using Russian folklore characters that have frequently appeared in my picture book study. Young Masha lives with her parents and tends the hens, decorating some of their eggs with a paint box her mother has bought her. One day, while playing in the forest, a Firebird entreats her to protect its eggs from Baba Yaga. The Firebird is the guardian of the eggs of the Four Elements, and Masha paints each egg to disguise it. Once three of the eggs are hidden, Baba Yaga is unable to find them. But, the egg of Fire, unguarded, is stolen. Using the Firebird’s feather and with the help of a wolf, a fish, an eagle, and the Firebird herself, Masha is able to confront and triumph over Baba Yaga. The story includes a poem written in Russian using the Cyrillic alphabet and with an English translation. Egg decorating suggestions follow the story.

There is much to love about the tale’s bright art, but the decorated eggs and the glorious Firebird are definitely the show pieces. The burnt orange Earth egg features a wolf, mice, mushrooms and flowers. The Water egg is awash with shells and fishes. The egg of Air shows two sky views, one sparkling with stars and a crescent moon and the reverse has a blue sky, brilliant sun and an eagle flying across it. Both the Fire egg and the Firebird seemingly blaze with crimson, yellow and orange flames. Baba Yaga is fearsome, easily six times the size of Masha, with long, rectangular iron teeth.

All together, this new twist on traditional motifs is a splendid addition to picture books of Russian folklore .

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