WOLVES.Michael Blake.Newmarket Press.324...


April 28, 1991|By GERRI KOBREN VASILISSA THE BEAUTIFUL: A RUSSIAN FOLKTALE. Adapted by Elizabeth Winthrop; illustrated by Alexander Koshkin. HarperCollins. 40 pages. $15.95. Ages 6-10.


Michael Blake.

Newmarket Press.

324 pages. $18.95.

Published three years ago in paperback and reissued ihardcover after the success of the movie of the same name, "Dances With Wolves," the book, is a screenplay in novel form. It's simple and direct, written in short chapters broken into shorter scenes, with no attempt at soaring language or literary style.

This is not criticism. The story of the transformation of a Civil War-era soldier named John Dunbar into a Comanche warrior named Dances With Wolves needs no embellishment. Dunbar's motives are clear: An essentially decent man, but rootless, with neither family nor friends, he accidentally is posted to an abandoned Army fort in the West, where isolation from his own world breaks allows him to see the Indians as people rather than savages; living among them, he recognizes the nobility of their ethos, and the savagery of white attitudes and actions toward them and their world.

Whether all this would be so compelling if the film were not unreeling during the reading is not entirely clear. Although there are some differences -- in the name of the tribe, and the ending -- they're too minor to matter, while everything else is too much alike to ignore. Dunbar has the face, form and voice of actor Kevin Costner, the awesome landscape envelops you in big-screen color, and the Comanche are all good-looking, graceful and wise.

Richly told and lavishly illustrated, this Russian version of thCinderella folk tale will fascinate and delight American children. They will recognize familiar themes: the widower seeking a new wife to be mother to his beautiful daughter; the wicked stepmother and her two daughters who bully and mistreat the young girl, because she is more beautiful than they; the three assigned tasks; the gift from Vasilissa's mother of a magical doll to protect and comfort her; the witch Baba Yaga of many Russian tales, who lives in an enchanted hut in the forest, similar to the witch and cottage of Hansel and Gretel, but even more foreboding and sinister.

A successful collaboration by a writer and artist, representing rich backgrounds, this book creates a tradition of Cinderella and Vasilissa in a read-aloud book children will want to look at over and over again.



Robert Campbell.

Pocket Books.

198 pages. $17.95.

Jimmy Flannery, the Chicago sewer inspector and politicaward heeler, is back for his seventh mystery in "The Gift Horse's Mouth." Since his first mystery, much has changed for not only Jimmy but Chicago. If not dead, "The Machine" is feeling pretty sick these days. Mary, Jimmy's wife, is pregnant. Even the Cubs are playing night games.

Because of circumstances, Jimmy begins thinking about the future. There is a vacancy for the committeeman in the 27th Ward. Jimmy goes to Boss Carrigan about the position. Carrigan is willing to help but first needs a "favor."

Goldie Hanrahan died in a riding accident. She was Carrigan's longtime secretary and knew more than a few secrets about Chicago politics. The coroner ruled her death an accident, but Carrigan isn't so certain.

The biggest question surrounding Goldie's death is what

happened to a specially made bridgework. Jimmy's inquiries lead to other questions and a 40-year-old secret that may even involve his father.

While hardly groundbreaking, "The Gift Horse's Mouth" is a tidy mystery. Jimmy is an original character, and Robert Campbell does an admirable job of describing present-day Chicago.



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