Saturday, July 2, 2011

Baboushka and the Three Kings (Picture Books, 2/6)

Baboushka and the Three Kings
Ruth Robbins, author
Nicolas Sidjakov, illustrator
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Sandpiper (October 27, 1986)
 Winner: Randolph Caldecott Medal, 1961..
Category: Folk story.
Style: Folk art
Media: Tempera, felt tipped pen
4/5 stars

Robbins retells a Russian folk tale in Baboushka and the Three Kings, in which the three Wise Men from the Christmas story stop at Baboushka’s house and invite her to come with them. She says she is too busy, but after they leave is filled with a yearning to see the child of which they spoke. The next morning, she leaves to find them, asking everyone “Have you seen the Child”; not having found him, she still searches every Christmas season, leaving gifts for children on her way. Robbins tells the story in a very straight-forward way, using no rhyme or repetition, and the story has no particular rhythm to it. It is intentionally Christian in theme, as well as didactic. Regardless, it is a lovely story and well told.

Sidjakov is obviously influenced by Russian traditional art. Babouska is drawn to look like a Matryoshka doll, with the traditional red cheek circles, head scarf, and 19th century Russian clothing. The illustrations are simplistic and stylized and perspective is generally skewed. Once the medium is known, the use of felt tip pen is obvious in his heavy black lines. Blue, yellow and red are used to fill in some parts of the illustration, but he used the negative space to color others. This is especially effective in the snowy village scenes. The end result is rustic and charming, and yet reminiscent of a majestic Byzantine icon. All in all, the illustrations give the book a most distinct Eastern European feel, and accentuate Robbins’ story.

Robbins uses large words in her narrative, most likely too difficult for the intended audience; certainly too difficult for early reading alone, and most likely so for read aloud as well. It would not be appropriate as a classroom teaching book in most public school settings, given the overt Christian tone, though it could perhaps be used in classrooms of students older than the intended audience to discuss Russian folk stories.

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