Hans Christian Andersen, Author, Stephen Mitchell, Author, Stephen Mitchell, Retold by , retold by Stephen Mitchell, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline. Candlewick $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-7636-1521-5

The exquisite jacket—which features delicate red lettering on a damask-patterned gold background and a cutout revealing a painting of a nightingale—sets up high expectations, and both Mitchell (The Frog Prince) and Ibatoulline (Crossing) meet them. Elaborate, harmonious watercolors pay homage to the flat style of Chinese brush paintings with iconic fidelity; brilliant interiors crammed with architectural and sartorial details alternate with muted landscapes and ancient, unchanging rocks and trees. The illustrations sometimes appear in several long panels set side by side, like scrolls hung on a wall. Mitchell's language is light and melodic: just as Death is about to claim the Emperor, "the whole room filled with the most beautiful singing. It was the nightingale, perched on a branch right outside the window. She had heard about the Emperor's sickness and had come to bring him hope and comfort with her song." In one panel, the bird perches on a gnarled pine branch above the ornate porcelain curlicues and red tiles of the imperial palace; the next shows the reviving Emperor, his crown askew and his brocade robes creased, raising himself up to hear the voice of his loyal friend as the specter of Death departs. This volume has a more formal elegance than Jerry Pinkney's recent The Nightingale, and it is just as impressive. Ages 6-10. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 10/14/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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