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The Race of the Birkebeiners
     

The Race of the Birkebeiners

by Lise Lunge-Larsen, Mary Azarian (Illustrator)
 

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When they went into battle they wore no costly armor, just birchbark wrapped around their legs, and so they were called Birkebeiners, which means "Birchleggers." It is the year 1206, and deep in the snow-covered mountains and valleys of Norway the fiercest warriors in the land struggle to ski a baby to safety. They race against the greed and inequity of the rich,

Overview

When they went into battle they wore no costly armor, just birchbark wrapped around their legs, and so they were called Birkebeiners, which means "Birchleggers." It is the year 1206, and deep in the snow-covered mountains and valleys of Norway the fiercest warriors in the land struggle to ski a baby to safety. They race against the greed and inequity of the rich, against the very weather of Norway. They race as the only way to save a child prince and bring peace to their country.

Here is a true, untold story of both bravery and tenderness. Mary Azarian's strong, sure woodcuts capture the warmth and ruggedness of medieval life, while Lise Lunge-Larsen's dramatic telling is direct and mesmerizing.

Author Biography: Caldecott Medalist Mary Azarian is a consummate gardener and a skilled and original woodblock artist. Many of her prints are heavily influenced by her love of gardening, and her turn-of-the-century farmhouse is surrounded by gardens that reveal an artist's vision. Mary Azarian received the 1999 Caldecott Medal for SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. She lives, skis, and gardens in Vermont.

Born and raised in Norway, Lise Lunge-Larsen learned to ski in the mountains at the age of three. She is the award-winning author of The Legend of the Ladyslipper and The Troll with No Heart in His Body. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and three children.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Based on a 1264 account documenting a true incident in Norwegian history, this engaging narrative opens during a 1206 Christmas Eve gathering at the home of one of the Birkebeiners, a group of brave warriors. A priest knocks on the door, who has in his protection a baby, Prince Hakon, and his mother; a rival band aspires to kill the child (who is heir to the throne) and to declare one of their own king. Soon a handful of Birkebeiners escorts the trio, escaping on skis across tall, stormy mountains. Caldecott winner Azarian's (Snowflake Bentley) finely detailed woodcut illustrations, hand-tinted with watercolors, capture the serene snow-covered landscape as well as the driving snowstorm that impedes the travelers' progress. In direct and compelling prose, Lunge-Larsen recounts how the two Birkebeiners most renowned for their skiing ability forge ahead with the prince, fortuitously happen upon a barn buried under a snowdrift and manage to keep the baby alive by feeding him snow. In a concluding note, the author explains that Hakon became Norway's most powerful king during the Middle Ages and brought peace and prosperity to the country, making this rescue tale all the more gratifying. The stately art, which includes intricate borders framing blocks of text, neatly captures the historical and cultural aspects of this story. Ages 5-9. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
This adventure is based on an account in "Hakon Hakonsson's Saga," penned in 1264 by Sturla Tordsson. On Christmas Eve in 1206, after the death of the king, Norway's baby prince Hakon and his mother Inga seek protection with the Birkebeiners, brave peasant warriors, as they flee the marauding Baglers. Skiing through the snow and bitter cold, they finally arrive at a safe haven. But the Baglers deny that Hakon is the true prince. Inga must submit to a terrible ordeal to prove his right to be the successful king he becomes. Azarian's tinted woodcuts are perfect for the story¾vigorously expressionistic, exploiting the roughness of the chisel's cut to depict the spare times and the snowy landscape. Double-page scenes that bleed off the pages and some text pages with wide, decorative frames stir the emotions as this grim adventure reaches the happy conclusion. The facts behind the story and the symbolic ski races that are run every year to commemorate it are explained with sources at the end. 2001, Houghton Mifflin, $16.00. Ages 5 to 9. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
K-Gr 5-This Norwegian legend, based on an actual event from the 13th century, has it all: an infant prince in peril, loyal Birkebeiners out to save him from the enemy Baglers, blizzard conditions and an escape on skis, and potential starvation. Even Prince H kon's mother must face the dreaded "Ordeal of the Burning Irons" to save her son and his claim to the throne. Miraculously, she survives and thrives after this ordeal. Despite some hard-to-pronounce names (Skervald Skrukka, Torstein Skevla), the prose is clear and the story is engaging. The saga is exciting but the illustrations truly make this book stand out. The woodcut pictures have been expertly rendered in rich colors and capture all of the action, the snowy landscapes, and characters' emotions. The ornate borders surrounding the pages of text evoke medieval illuminated manuscripts. This adventure is a worthy selection for all folklore collections.-Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Norwegian-born storyteller Lunge-Larsen (The Troll With No Heart in His Body, 1999, etc.) and Caldecott Medalist Azarian (A Gardener's Alphabet, 2000, etc.) combine their considerable talents to retell a dramatic true story of the Norwegian Birkebeiners ("Birchleggers"), a group of medieval peasant warriors who wrapped birchbark around their legs in lieu of armor before going into battle. In 1206, two of the Birkebeiners saved the infant Prince Hakon by skiing across the mountains in a blizzard to escape a group of rich nobles and bishops who wanted the baby prince dead and their own king on the throne. Prince Hakon's mother Inga also has an important role in the second part of the story when she proves through a medieval ritual that the baby is indeed the son of the recently deceased king. The baby became one of Norway's most famous kings, and the Birkebeiner ski race is still reenacted annually in both Norway and the US. Lunge-Larsen relates the story with the dramatic flair of a professional storyteller, and Azarian's dazzling handtinted woodcuts provide a natural artistic accompaniment to a story set in the Middle Ages. The oversized format offers many full-bleed spreads with text set against icy blue snow or sky, and full pages of text bordered with Scandinavian designs reminiscent of richly embroidered ribbon. (author's note, bibliography) (Folktale. 5-9)
From the Publisher
Reprint Review: "direct and compelling prose." PW 12/17/07 Publishers Weekly, Starred

Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780618103133
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/24/2001
Edition description:
None
Pages:
32
Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.13(d)
Lexile:
AD660L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Reprint Review: "direct and compelling prose." PW 12/17/07 Publishers Weekly, Starred

Publishers Weekly

Meet the Author

Lise Lunge-Larsen is an award-winning author and a professional storyteller. Born and raised in Norway, she lives with her family in the hills of Duluth, Minnesota.

Caldecott Medalist Mary Azarian is a consummate gardener and a skilled and original woodblock artist. Many of her prints are heavily influenced by her love of gardening, and her turn-of-the-century farmhouse is surrounded by gardens that reveal an artist's vision. Mary Azarian received the 1999 Caldecott Medal for SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. She lives, skis, and gardens in Vermont.

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