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Swan Lake [Hardcover]

Chris Van Allsburg , Mark Helprin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Sept. 28 1989
The two-time Caldecott medalist illustrates Mark Helprin's enchanting story of the characters in Tchaikovsky's famous ballet.

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From Publishers Weekly

In Swan Lake Helprin spins a story as elegant and beautiful as the swan that graces the book's cover; white as pages in a book, the bird glides halfway between earth and sky where illusion and reality intermingle. In language that is wise without being didactic and musical without being affected, Helprin tells of tragedy transcended by love and memory. Unlike the recent Fonteyn/Hyman version (HBJ) that faithfully recounted the famous ballet, Helprin's Swan Lake , while retaining some of the details of the familiar story, enlarges both its plot and vision. Helprin's characters are not governed by magical enchantments but by human nature and the qualities inherent in them as individuals. The Prince, having sworn to be faithful to Odette and the world of beauty and nature she represents, is beguiled by the glitter of civilization and by "webs of obligation" to betray her. Odette is not portrayed literally as a swan, but as she and the Prince leap to their deaths they fall "in smooth dampened curves that promised flight." Helprin's complex tale within a tale, like C. S. Lewis's Narnia books, will be a welcome challenge for young readers. The story is focused in part upon the Prince and his Odette but also upon the characters who love and remember them: the Prince's curmudgeonly tutor and a girl who discovers that she is their daughter. The tutor's leisurely narrative is sprinkled with humor and philosophy and often interrupted by the girl, who learns what it means to be "conquered by the world of the heart and all the possibilities therein." In his Van Allsburg's richly colored paintings, Van Allsburg has chosen to sometimes depict sometimes inconsequential moments from the story. The villain, Von Rothbart, e.g., is not pictured at all, while an entire page is devoted to the insignificant "academy of truffle-hunting pigs." The 16 paintings, extraordinary in themselves, mark a departure for Van Allsburg, whose picture book illustrations in the past have been integral to the plot. Here, because the text is of greater length, he follows the tradition of earlier children's book masters; the light-filled paintings are set within like jewels that ornament and reflect the text without systematically explicating it. In Winter's Tale Helprin describes books that are "hard to read" but "could devastate and remake one's soul"; his Swan Lake contains truths "that take us beyond what we can reason and what we can prove." All ages. (Oct.).
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 6 Up-- Visually this book is stunning , with handsomely designed borders , elegant paper, and an evocative small black - and - white illustration of two swans on the title page. Some of the 13 full-color illustrations placed throughout the book are more affecting than others. The emperor lying with his head propped on his dog and his pen between his toes, the rider standing on a galloping horse, and the two great swans with wings raised as if to dance are memorable images. The archer in the window poised to kill seems more shadowy than sinister, and the two lovers falling to their death are awkward rather than graceful. The retelling and adaptation of the well-known story is more problematic. The fragile story of a prince who leaves his childhood behind when he finds his princess, an enchanted swan held captive by an evil magician, has been adapted into a tale of the power struggle between an evil politician and naive rulers, with the lovers caught in the middle. The magician Von Rothbart is now the emperor's second in command and the real power in the land. The only enchantment is the pure love between Odette and the Prince that survives in the form of an infant daughter. The Prince's tutor, who acts the drunken fool in order to keep his post at court, tells the story to their child. The writing is skillful, with verbal images so strong that the illustrations almost seem unnecessary, but the plot is overloaded with philosophical musing about the quality of life and ironic descriptions of life at a decadent court. It is much too dense and sophisticated for children, and at the same time thin fare on which to pin so much for adults. A special purchase for large public libraries because of interest in the two creators and as a lovely example of book making. --Amy Kellman, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When the world was young Aug. 23 2002
By Sam G
Format:Hardcover
these were the images. The ability to heighten your senses. To smell the sunshine on the grass. To be alive in the breezes. Awaken to love and loyalty. Heart stopping and heart wrenching. A tale for all ages.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A whole-hearted recommendation of a difficult book to find. March 19 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Swan Lake is as rich and satisfying as hot apple cider or the scent of a single cherry blossom. While this book may not be well suited for very young children, it is still a small and perfect tale, the flavor of which will remain with the reader for years. This is one of the ten books that should be in everyone's library; inexplicably, it's a difficult book to find, but when you do come across it, buy it as a favor to yourself.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly wonderful story July 8 2000
By Julie Fudge Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Swan Lake is a beautiful book. The story of the old man, the little girl, the true prince and the beautiful Odette is told with simple elegance through the eyes of the wise old grandfather. I read this book out loud with my friend, and we could have stayed up all night, caught up in the beautiful, heartbreaking tale of love and life and learning. We laughed and cried, and sat stiff with suspense. We were filled by turns with sorrow and joy, despair and hope and sometimes a mixture of them all. Everyone should read Swan Lake, for this book is truly a treasure, a gem that will shine brightly for years to come.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect book for Valentine's Day! Jan. 19 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is tremendous both aesthetically and from a literature standpoint. It is appropriate for all ages, but is probably best served as a gift to someone particularly close or special. If possible, make an effort to find the hardcover version - it's worth the effort!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!! March 23 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
IF YOU READ THIS BOOK YOU WILL CRY AND LAUGH AND SIT IN SUSPENSE AND BE CAPTIVATED BY PAGES AND PAGES OF HEART-TEARING DESCRIPTION AND BREATHTAKING PICTURES. IF YOU THINK A MEDIEVAL FICTION IS ABOUT KNIGHTS KILLING DRAGONS, IT'S NOT. THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ, AND IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, THAT'S YOUR PROBLEM. I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT ONE AUTHOR AND ONE ILLUSTRATOR COULD CREATE SUCH INCREDIBLY FANTASTIC MAGIC IN WORDS AND PICTURES. IT'S NOT A STUPID FANTASY, IT'S AN AMAZING ADVENTURE THAT YOU WILL THINK ABOUT FOR YEARS AND REMEMBER FOR YOUR WHOLE LIFE!!!!!!!!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best read ever April 15 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is one of the best books I have ever read! I have read it several times over and the story never grows old. It holds me captivated to the very last page through every reading. (I also cry every single time.) If you are the kind of person who loves the story of Romeo and Juliet I garentee that this book is for you.
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