<b>A girl's surprising quest</b>A young boy's great-grandmother visits from the Old Country bearing a special gift, an old violin. "You will make this old fiddle sing," she tells him. When the boys asks her to tell him about the Old Country, she says, "I've been waiting for you to ask. In the Old Country, every winter was a hundred years and every spring a miracle; in the Old Country, the water was like music and the music was like water. It's where all the fairy tales come from, where there was magic and there was war."So begins Mordicai Gerstein's magical fable, <b>The Old Country</b>, as Great-Grandmother Gisella relates the strange story of her childhood. As a young girl, she had ventured into the forest with a crossbow to kill a fox stealing chickens from the family farm.
When Gisella finds the fox, she discovers that he can talk, and suddenly she is surrounded by other talking animals and tiny magical forest folk. A trial is held to determine whether the fox is guilty of killing the chickens, and Flame, the fox, is found innocent. Gisella then stares into Flame's eyes and a transformation occurs: Gisella becomes the fox, and Flame becomes Gisella. A long, magical journey ensues for Gisella the fox. War overtakes the land, threatening to destroy everything. Gisella discovers that her family has been taken prisoner at the Crystal Palace. A family hen has laid a golden egg, and the emperor there is determined to learn the hen's secret. Aided by magical and animal friends, Gisella manages to get inside the Crystal Palace and help save the day. Along the way she learns much about guilt, innocence, evil, instinct and humanity. Mordicai Gerstein won the 2004 Caldecott Medal for his picture book, <i>The Man Who Walked Between the Towers</i>. His new fable is an enchanted fairy tale that holds something for readers young and old. Younger children will enjoy the excitement of Gisella's surprising quest, while older children and adults can use this tale of war and hatred to draw conclusions about history and current world affairs. Gerstein's writing is crisp, pure and lyrical, and <b>The Old Country </b>is a special book that should be read, shared and reread.
<i>Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.</i>