Caldecott artist Zelinsky puts oils to cherry and maple for this tall-tale competition between a Tennessee woodswoman extraordinaire and a hungry, fearsome bear. This debut of a promising new storyteller adds to the tall-tale tradition a pictorial counterpart that will entertain and endure for a long time to come. Full color.
Zelinsky's (Rumpelstiltskin) stunning American-primitive oil paintings, set against an unusual background of cherry, maple and birch veneers, frankly steal the show here. Their success, however, does not diminish the accomplishment of Isaacs, whose feisty tall tale marks an impressive picture-book debut. Her energy-charged narrative introduces Angelica Longrider. ``On August 1, 1815,'' Isaacs begins, ``when [she] took her first gulp of air on this earth, there was nothing about the baby to suggest that she would become the greatest woodswoman in Tennessee. The newborn was scarcely taller than her mother and couldn't climb a tree without help.... She was a full two years old before she built her first log cabin.'' The story continues in this casually overstated vein, explaining how Angelica got the appellation Swamp Angel at the age of 12 after rescuing a wagon train mired in the mud. But the larger-than-life girl's reputation grows to truly gargantuan proportions when she bests an even larger bear, throwing him up in the sky, where "he crashed into a pile of stars, making a lasting impression. You can still see him there, any clear night." This valiant heroine is certain to leave youngsters chuckling-and perhaps even keeping a close watch on the night sky. Ages 5-9. (Oct.)