CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 16. . . . April 11, 2003
Then out came the twelve sisters, dressed alike in red dresses with white embroidery. Their headdresses were exactly the same as well. They were all tall and strong-boned, with eyes the color of the sea.
Magic, talking animals, and many other elements of folklore combine in this Russian tale of the Morskoi Tzar, king of the sea. The tzar helps the king of the land and is promised a favor in return. Unwittingly, the king promises to give the tzar his son. Years pass, and one day, the tzar appears to claim his human "victim." The boy, raised to be true to his word, walks to the seashore to wait. When nothing happens, he walks through the woods and finds Baba Yaga's hut. Baba Yaga advises him to return to the water's edge where twelve spoonbills will turn into twelve maidens, and then he is to take the dress of the eldest girl. The boy does so, but the girl, Vasilisa the Wise, asks him to return the dress in exchange for her help in the future, should he need it. Swimming deep into the water, the young prince meets the tzar who asks him to build a crystal bridge in a single night or face death. Vasilisa comes to the young man's rescue. The following day, the tzar commands him to perform yet another impossible task, and, once more, Vasilisa helps. Finally, the tzar asks the prince to choose one of the tzar's daughters- all identical in appearance- to be his bride. But there's a hitch: the boy must pick the same girl three times. Despite the sisters' changing positions in the line-up in order to confuse him, the prince chooses Vasilisa, thanks to her hints about how she can be distinguished from her sisters. The story ends happily, with Vasilisa and the prince marrying and ruling the land and sea together.
Though it takes a while to get into the story- in which there's a lot happening- and a few parts are questionable (for example, Baba Yaga's very brief "cameo' appearance), the story improves as it goes along. The tale is told in simple language, in typical folkloric style, and is presented in double-page spreads throughout the book. Czernecki continues to reinvent himself. This time, the illustrations are large, bold and simple, with flat planes and colours. Various shades of gold, rust, blue and brown form the majority of the backgrounds, with similar tones plus red, green, gray and flesh tones adding to the foreground.
Despite the many twists and turns this story takes, the book is certainly worthy of purchase.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.