Yolen, Jane. (2002). The Firebird. V. Vagin. Hong Kong: HarpersCollinsPublishers.
Literary Genre: Traditional Literature (Picture Book)
“In a certain land, in a certain kingdom—as they say in old Russia—on the far side of a certain tangled wood” was a garden ruled by an evil wizard, Kostchei the Deathless. Kostchei holds the princess and her nine maidens captive in his garden, anyone who attempts to rescue them is turned to stone. Prince Ivan is out hunting and follows the magical firebird to this garden. The red firebird bestows one of his magical feathers to Prince Ivan, but will that be enough to help him conquer Kostchei and free the princess and her maidens. Vagin’s exceptional illustrations display the folktale as well as depict scenes from the famous ballet.
I loved this book! The language flows naturally making this book ideal for a read aloud; this is an essential element of traditional literature. The Firebird also exhibits other features of quality traditional literature, for instance, the simple story structure, the struggle between good and evil, references the oral tradition, has an indistinct setting, and succinct language. The illustrations are so entrancing that I had to go through and look at all the illustrations on every page before I read the story. Yolen includes an author’s note at the end that provides the reader with some insight into Russian folktales. The Firebird is a reoccurring character in many Russian tales and sometimes dwells in a golden cage. My four-year-old son actually introduced me to this folktale via Disney’s “Little Einsteins - Rocket's Firebird Rescue” (a movie made for preschoolers), and we were both ecstatic to learn that the hero in the traditional version is Prince Ivan because Ivan is my son’s middle name :). I am very excited to start reading other variants and versions of this magical tale!