Monday, October 23, 2006


SPARKS FLY HIGH: THE LEGEND OF DANCING POINT retold by Mary Quattlebaum, illustrated by Leonid Gore (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
Should you ever have the pleasure of dancing a minuet with Colonel Lightfoot, you would find him indeed light on his feet but heavy on the hubris. While even the angels in heaven can't resist his talent, they couldn't possibly love him more than he loves himself, and a graceful gait was not the only gift he was given: admiration of his wide expanse of land comes in a close second. But with every gift there is a curse, and that curse is that the devil himself has taken to a plot on the colonel's plantation, turning it into a murky swamp unfit for plowing. The only way he can remedy the situation is with a throw-down show-down with the devil himself, with the angels above and demons below cheering for their favorite side. When the colonel begins to realize that he has met his match not only in skill but in ego, he cleverly uses this character flaw to his own advantage. Be careful, you devil, it takes one to know one!

Based on a legend surrounding a mysterious bare spot of land along the James River in Charles City county near Williamsburg, this retelling certainly does have a storyteller's spark, full of alliterative, well-chosen language that dances off the tongue and casts a spell on the listener. If you like Eric Kimmel's HERSHEL AND THE HANUKKAH GOBLINS (Holiday House) and THE DEVIL AND MOTHER CRUMP by Valerie Scho Carey (HarperCollins, you sillies, when are you going to bring it back in print?), you will enjoy the trickster twist of this title. Fitting with the Colonel's refined tastes, Gore's artwork is nothing short of elegant: rich, textured, with a particularly distinguished technique that melds fine art with illustration, bringing to mind a less ornamental version of Gennady Spirin (who, like Leonid Gore, emigrated from Russia and started being published in the U.S. in the 1990's...perhaps they were similarly inspired by Russian folkloric traditions and classical art). I just would love to know how Gore managed to make those sparks look so hot! The really do look like they are flying off the page! Make sure you have music so that children can dance a jig after the conceited gets some come-uppance. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
THE DEVIL'S STORYBOOK by Natalie Babbitt (Farrar Straus Giroux) Laugh-out-loud folktales fit for rapt read-alouds. Years later, these clever stories wil be burned into the memory. (8 and up)

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