Thursday, December 29, 2011

1. The Flint Heart

Written by Katherine & John Paterson
Illustrated by John Rocco
Candlewick, 2011
$19.99, ages 7 and up, 304 pages
Twelve-year-old Charles and little sister Unity try to stop an ancient rock from turning men into brutes, in Katherine and John Paterson's droll, magical remake of Eden Phillpott's 1910 story.

The rock, a heart-shaped charm chipped from flint, gives anyone who wears it a hard heart, no matter how kind they once were.

It was uncovered by a mystery man in the Stone Age, and created such terror back then that it was buried deep in a grave under a pile of rocks for five thousand years.

Then about 100 years ago, Charles' father Billy Jago made the mistake of unearthing it near his farm in Merripit, and he was turned into a nasty wretch of a man.

Unaware that the Flint Heart had caused his father's drastic behavior, Charles and five-year-old Unity set off with their dog Ship to ask the pixies for a gift to soften his temper. 

They head off to the Pixie's hole in a wooded dell, where they meet up with a little fairy man, De Quincey, who offers to shrink them down to size and introduce them to an all-knowing sage, the Zagabog.

At a banquet, the Zagabog, the mystic of the fairy world, tells the children that their father doesn't need a gift; he needs something to be taken away, the flint charm from his waistcoat.

On the way home to sneak away the charm, Charles and Unity stumble upon a tossed out hot-water bottle with legs, a mournful fellow with a big hole in his side, and offer to take him home to mend him.

The next day after being sorely punished by their father for being late, Charles slips the Flint Heart out of his father's coat and flings it with all his might into a swamp.

But little does he know, the Flint Heart is not gone for good and on their second visit to Pixies Holt, Charles and Unity learn that a hobgoblin named Marsh Galloper has found it.

And worse, he has marshaled a legion of Jack Toads in a revolt against Fairyland.

Now it's up to Charles, Unity, Ship and their friend the talking water bottle to catch him, but will they ever get rid of this wicked stone?

The Patersons' adaptation feels as though it was sprinkled with fairy dust. The words dance about the page as happily as a jig and Rocco's illustrations are little gifts of wonder that center us on every magical turn-of-plot.

One look at the Jacky Toad curled up asleep in Charles' hands (after the cursed stone is taken away), and readers will be wishing for a sprite of their own to cradle and hug to their cheek.

Let the Newbery Award nominations begin. Hmm. The only question is whether a "freely abridged" story can win the title? Surely if any could, the Patersons' would.

No comments:

Post a Comment