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

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

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My Russia project continues: Easter Picture Books

The Birds’ Gift: a Ukrainian Easter Story. Retold by Eric Kimmel. Illus. by Katya Krenina, 1999.

Katrusya and her grandfather are enjoying a walk in the new winter snow, when they spot a golden bird buried and half-frozen beneath a tree. They decide to take it home and save as many more birds as possible, enlisting help from their family, the local priest, and finally the entire village. The birds live in the eaves of the houses and church, and near winter’s end, they indicate that they need to be free. Katrusya misses them, but a special surprise awaits her on Easter when the birds return. The story has a spiritual message to trust in God to take care of every creature and to believe in miracles. After the tale, Kimmel has an Author’s Note explaining about Pysanky, the art of decorating eggs.

Krenina’s heartwarming art is filled with little birds snuggled into Katrusya’s shawl and mittens, flying in a beam of light inside the church and perching in trees and on rooftops after their return. Other outstanding pictures are of the Easter celebration, with the family in their colorful Ukrainian costume, and the young daughters wearing crowns of flowers with streaming ribbons. A two page spread shows the beautifully decorated eggs with their fine and complicated designs. Katrusya’s own egg is very special, with little golden birds against a sky blue background.

Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco, 1988.

In this story, another kind person is rewarded with beautiful eggs and a special surprise. Babushka, who paints elaborately patterned eggs for the Moskva (Moscow) Easter Festival, also feeds the local caribou in winter. One day, when caring for the animals, she sees a goose shot down by a hunter, and takes her home to tend, naming her Rechenka. As Rechenka recovers, she begins to explore the house and accidentally breaks the painted eggs that Babushka has prepared. However, every morning after until the festival, Rechenka lays a gorgeous and miraculous egg for Babushka, who is able to go to the festival after all. When she returns, there is one more lovely treat awaiting her.

Polacco’s charming art partners wonderfully with this sweet story. I especially like the scenes where Babushka is with her animals, feeding the caribou in the snow or sharing her tea with her little goose. The pictures are full of color and details that remind us that the story is set in Eastern Europe. Babushka’s patterned dresses and scarves stand out against the mostly white backgrounds. Her eggs are complex and serious, with black ink to contrast with the colors. Rechenka’s eggs are much brighter, with heavy use of pink, red, orange and blue. Polacco includes Russian religious icons In Babushka’s home and at the festival. She shows us the fantastic onion domes of the city. This all adds up to a book that has been rightfully popular with readers since the 1980s.

Take a look at her blog at: Patricia Polacco.

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