Necklace of Stars

30 pages,
ISBN: 0773729674

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Children`s Books
by Rasa Mazeika

The power of myth and folklore has not abated in the modern age. Like our ancestors, we long for archetypes and magical images, even if expressed on a flickering computer screen rather than by the flickering light of a campfire. Authors of children's books are constantly trying to create new folklore, but this is more difficult than it seems. Veronika Martenova Charles comes close in this appealing book, which can be appreciated by children from pre-school age to seven or eight.

Miguel, a boy who lives in a hut in an unidentified mountain country, is told by his father about an ancient city hidden in an emerald lake on which golden ducks swim, which can only be caught with a necklace of stars. He accidentally finds the lake, and eventually catches stars to make a necklace to trap the ducks. They turn into a princess and her brothers, who tell that their city was submerged long ago to save it from destructive "pale strangers". The princess invites Miguel to choose between his family and the enchanted life she offers beneath the waters-a classic fairy-tale choice, resolved here with no surprises.

For the first few pages, both story and illustrations are unexciting-we do not learn of the submerged city until the fourth page. Once the folkloric element is introduced, however, it seems to inspire the author, because both her prose and illustrations begin to soar. There are truly beautiful paintings in this book which will make any reader long for emerald lakes and rough mountains. The sufficiently absorbing story has incorporated some classical magical elements which weight this adventure tale with echoes of ancient lore. Although the author's introduction tells us that she is writing about the Incas of the Andes, that lore sounds suspiciously like Eastern European stories I heard in my childhood. I assume that the author found an similar story in the Andes. If not, it would be very patronizing indeed to put European folklore in the lips of a people who have their own rich heritage.

Generally the protagonists of the story are presented as anonymous, generic ethnics. This is an understandable ploy to avoid cavils by historians and folklorists, but it does convey the message to North American children that all places outside their continent belong to an unreal never-never land. Meanwhile, New York and Los Angeles are all too clearly localized for the television-viewing child, their inhabitants all too real in the world of sitcoms. It would do no harm to combat the influence of American insularity by clearly indicating the reality of the Andes and of the Incas who inspired this book.

A separate complaint must be lodged about the mawkish prose of the publisher's jacket copy. We are told that Miguel "must choose between his world and another," and that he "can stand tall enough to reach the stars." Even a toddler has heard these phrases before in advertising jingles. These clichés do not do justice to Martenova Charles's writing or her drawings, which sometimes beautifully engage themselves with an imagined folklore. 

Rasa Mazeika is an archivist, librarian, and museum curator.


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