Vasilisa the Beautiful (Russian Folktales) by Anthea Bell and Anna Morgunova

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Vasilisa the Beautiful (Russian Folktales) by Anthea Bell and Anna Morgunova

Category: Emerging Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: While the large text font with narrow line may make it a little awkward for the very young solo reader, and the artwork will definitely be different to what they have experience of, this story of a Russian Cinderella-type is well worth a look.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 48 Date: October 2015
Publisher: Minedition
ISBN: 9789888342518

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When I say to you the first response I had on picking up this book was 'Ooh, someone knows their Klimt', and that I thought I had seen Kandinsky in the art inside, it tells you the aesthetic is definitely to the fore here. (That latter claim was a bit false – but there's definitely a touch of Picasso.) Of course there is a story, and a more-than decent story it is too, but with the intriguing, detailed and unusual artwork of Anna Morgunova, this picture book with many words really does come to life.

As regards that definition of picture book with many words, each double-page spread has at least one full-page image; sometimes the illustration leaks and creeps across both pages. The writing is never more than four paragraphs per spread, which means the word count is suitable for the emerging reader, but the length of the line and a quite open font that is the direct opposite of bold that makes the writing appear quite faint may throw the inexperienced audience member off their page scanning.

As regards the story, you can see why it's been chosen. It features a beautiful girl, sent into a life of drudgery by her stepmother and her two conniving daughters. It features a different take on the most well-known evil witch-type character in Russian folkore, Baba Yaga – one where she has no need of chicken legs, but who just has a sense of evil in that she can always get her way, but of fairness too. The final third has semblances of some other fairy tales, too – only in folk and fairy do young girls enjoy spinning yarn.

And as regards those paintings… They almost provide a shadow narrative, one that starts by being hardly even implied by the text, but acting as if not counterpoint then under-melody. Here is the father bringing his new wife with her children (with their cats) on a cart driven by a giant red turkey. The fate intended for Vasilisa in the forest is never in the script, but it features wolves and other animals in the image. Baba Yaga is never referred to by being at all avian, but there's a bird life to her spirit, if nothing more; wildfowl and animals feature in all the artworks, as do many semblances of semi-see-through, shadow spirits, wonky-eyed or one-eyed creatures, the breath of life leaving from between people's lips, and that cover artwork, with the Klimt-esque, patchwork quilt of a body enfolding another. The detail is nowhere near the richness of that master, but these weird and wonderful expressionist works can only delay the turning of the page, and make this certainly a book to consider.

It's not the most beautiful book in the world ever – more people would choose a Constable on their wall to a Franz Marc, who I am with research guessing at as the strongest influence in style – but in the high visual level of intrigue the large pictures present, and the clear and enjoyable work of the traditional fairy tale conveyed really quite entertainingly, this work by a house quite new to me stands out as a firm calling-card.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Baba Yaga and many more feature in The Orchard Book of Magical Tales by Margaret Mayo for a similar age range.

Buy Vasilisa the Beautiful (Russian Folktales) by Anthea Bell and Anna Morgunova at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Vasilisa the Beautiful (Russian Folktales) by Anthea Bell and Anna Morgunova at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Vasilisa the Beautiful (Russian Folktales) by Anthea Bell and Anna Morgunova at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Vasilisa the Beautiful (Russian Folktales) by Anthea Bell and Anna Morgunova at Amazon.com.


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