The Old Country

The Old Country

4.0 1
by Mordicai Gerstein
     
 

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From the winner of the 2004 Caldecott Medal comes a memorable new work, a novel of singular insight and imagination that transports readers to the Old Country, where "all the fairy tales come from, where there was magic — and there was war." There, Gisella stares a moment too long into the eyes of a fox, and she and the fox exchange shapes. Gisella's quest to

Overview

From the winner of the 2004 Caldecott Medal comes a memorable new work, a novel of singular insight and imagination that transports readers to the Old Country, where "all the fairy tales come from, where there was magic — and there was war." There, Gisella stares a moment too long into the eyes of a fox, and she and the fox exchange shapes. Gisella's quest to get her girl-body back takes her on a journey across a war-ravaged country that has lost its shape. She encounters magic, bloodshed, and questions of power and justice — until finally, looking into the eyes of the fox once more, she faces a strange and startling choice about her own nature. Part adventure story and part fable; exciting, beautifully told, rich in humor and wisdom, The Old Country is the work of an artist and storyteller at the height of his powers.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gerstein (The Man Who Walked Between the Towers) skillfully shapes a story by turns disturbing and comforting. His hybrid of fantasy and fable explores such themes as human nature, war, magic and music. The tale within a tale opens as Gisella visits her great granddaughter, gives her a present and shares a story of her childhood in the Old Country, where, she says, "I was a little girl and where I was a fox." Gisella builds on this note of intrigue, as she describes her wise great-aunt warning her that in the woods "things may not be what they seem. Things change; now it's this, then it's that. Look closely, be careful, and never look too long into the eyes of a fox." Indeed, danger befalls the young Gisella when her brother is drafted into the army, and it's up to her to kill the fox who's been stealing the family's chickens. Deep in the woods, strange things occur-talking animals and "small people." The girl finds herself gazing intently into the fox's eyes, and the two mysteriously exchange bodies. Meanwhile, war breaks out ("Air that had been full of springtime now had a new odor, bitter and jagged. It was the smell of pain, and it was everywhere"), sending Gisella on a labyrinthine journey with a forest sprite as her guide. Gerstein brilliantly ties the war's escalation with the dwindling of magic, and caps off this vividly descriptive narrative with an unexpected ending. Ages 11-14. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Gisella stares in to the eyes of a fox for just a moment too long and exchanges shapes with the fox. Gisella's brother is forced to become a soldier and go to war and her family (and the fox posing as Gisella) flees her home because of the war. In her search to return to her body and reunite with her family, she meets a sprite, talking animals, a chicken that lays a golden egg, and an evil king and queen. Gisella learns about power and justice and, after finally meeting the fox again, must chose her fate. This story has the feel of a traditional fairy tale and could be easily adapted into a language arts curriculum. 2005, Roaring Brook Press, and Ages 10 to 14.
—Terri L. Lent
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-The bulk of this tale takes place in the pseudo-mythical Old Country. At the present time, Great Grandmother Gisella tells her disbelieving young relative the story about how she had been both a girl and a fox. The complicated telling begins, intermingling rather gruesome civil war images, animal tales, Alice-in-Wonderlandesque style legal trials, and slapstick political characters and coups. When Gisella stares too long into Flame the Fox's eyes, they trade shapes. Gisella the fox spends much of the rest of the tale trying to find her family and Flame/Gisella so that she can return to her original form. Mordicai Gerstein seems to tackle too many issues in his novel (Roaring Brook, 2005): human vs. animal existence, war vs. peace, and magic vs. realism. The language, however, is evocative, leading listeners to smell the forest and see the colors of the woods. Actress Tovah Feldshuh greatly improves the novel with her excellent narration. She gives Gisella a generic Eastern European accent, and successfully conveys the morass of emotions felt by the animals, humans, and animal/human combinations in the story. For some reason, her reading makes the clues to Great Grandmother Gisella's true nature and the end of her story about her youth more noticeable. Not a first purchase consideration.-B. Allison Gray, John Jermain Memorial Library, Sag Harbor, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fable of many large ideas in a slim volume. Gisella recalls a mythical "Old Country" for her great granddaughter. Her story involves journey/quests to recover chickens stolen by Flame the fox; to rescue her family caught and imprisoned in the Emperor's bogus war; and to regain her own body after a magical transference in which she and Flame exchange places. Thematically the story embraces the death of magic at the hands of human violence, the ruinous character of war, the nature of humanity and the hypocrisy of justice systems. Results are mixed, in part due to limitations of the fabulous form and its thin, archetypal characterizations. At quest's end, Gisella decides to keep her fox body and send Flame off to flourish in the New World. The conclusion may not seem to flow credibly from character, leaving some readers to puzzle at Gisella's choice. Nevertheless, its richness in language and imagery and its snatches of humor will offer layers of inquiry and discussion for the special reader. (Fiction. 9-13)
From the Publisher
"With his exquisite sense of possibilities, Gerstein urges his readers to remember the tales of wonder that may not be written but are history, too."

The New York Times

 

"Its richness in language and imagery and its snatches of humor will offer layers of inquiry and discussion."

Kirkus Reviews

 

"Gerstein ... skillfully shapes a story ... Vividly descriptive."

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

 

"THE OLD COUNTRY is an excellent read-aloud book for all ages."

Kidsreads.com

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596431928
Publisher:
Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
09/05/2006
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
144
Product dimensions:
6.01(w) x 8.96(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Mordicai Gerstein received the 2004 Caldecott Medal for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. He lives in Northhampton, Massachusetts.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Northhampton, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
November 25, 1935
Place of Birth:
Los Angeles, California
Education:
Chouinard Institute of Art
Website:
http://www.mordicaigerstein.com

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The Old Country 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Toastybob More than 1 year ago
The Old Country is a short and sweet fairy tail at its heart, but the exceptional writing, interesting twists, and social commentary make it a standout. The writing style is interestingly childish despite being written in 3rd person, yet is never lacking in perceptiveness and also has the advantage of being oddly poetic. In fact, I'd have to say that the writing is my favorite part of this, mostly due to the excellent word choice. Another highlight is the twist ending, which while not very difficult to predict, still packs a punch. Similarly, the rather transparent commentary on the futility of war is still effective and a worthwhile addition. Overall, The Old Country may be too simplistic for some, but I found it a refreshing read.