Picks and Pans Review: The Black Falcon
Retold by William Wise, Illustrated by Gillian Barlow
A dazzling book, with an unsavory legend at the core, this may prove puzzling to children. The tale involves a poor knight in love with a rich widow. When she asks to dine with him one evening, he kills his beloved falcon in order to serve her meat. Turns out, the lady's reason for visiting him was to ask for the falcon as a gift for her ailing son. Whoops! Or, as the astonished Kate, 8, put it, "He killed the falcon? He should have just given her vegetables!" Age 5 and up. (Philomel, $14.95)
The Classic Treasury of Children's Poetry Edited by Louise Betts Egan
Bluebirds fly through the pages of this magical volume, with glorious illustrations by a dozen artists. "It's Raining, It's Pouring," comes wrapped in an old man's beard; a baby hippopotamus sprouts wings for "If I Could Fly"; a perky pig takes a slide through "Mud." Of the classic poems, we loved "My Dog Spot" ("And he's sometimes white/ And he's sometimes not"). Age 3 and up. (Courage Books, $8.98)
The Dinosaur Hunter's Kit
Call it a game, not a book. This terrific package contains both a fact-filled guide to paleontology and a chance for kids to dig up some pretend-dinosaur bones buried under an inch of clay. The dig requires hard work (in addition to the wooden stick provided, we used Dad's toothbrush). But the directions are clear, and the space for "field notes" makes the project as educational as it is entertaining. (Running Press, $14.95)
Hansel and Gretel
For any child hungry for a witch story, what better witch than the one who lives in the sugarcoated cottage? Adults may remember this bizarre puppet version of the Grimm fairy tale, with Engelbert Humperdinck's operatic score, from their own childhoods. The theatrical release was a hit in 1954. But, if anything, it plays better in the robotic '90s. The characters' jerky movements and the eerie pastel backdrops create a surreal tension. There are dancing tables, a sandman with a band of angels and that cackling centerpiece with the pointy chin. "When I see the witch, I hate the witch," explains Nick, 3. "So I like it." (Vestron, $59.98)
With drumrolls, roaring fires and emphasis on the "greed and selfishness" of mankind, you know straight off that this is no coy interpretation of the Bible story. Animated in Shanghai and narrated by James Earl Jones, this rendition is most memorable for its, uh, direct approach. "I liked it," said Kate, 8, wistfully, "but it was sad when the other people and animals had to be left behind." Clawing and screaming and waving, no less. (Hi-Tops Video, $14.99).
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