Somerset Maugham's well-known short story ``Appointment in Samarra'' joins a recent spate of pompous picture books purportedly aimed at children but actually marketed to adults. Like others in this sub-genre, the book features lavish artwork printed on top-grade paper, but whose value for--and appeal to--the picture-book set is questionable at best. Set in Baghdad, this particular narrative tells of an elderly servant who one day sees ``Death, disguised as an old woman,'' in the marketplace. The frightened man runs home, begs a horse from his master and flees to Samarra--although in the end he cannot escape his fate. Benjamin has done a workmanlike job of reducing the elements of Maugham's original to its essence, but the story's irony will sail over the heads of most young readers. And though Essley's illustrations exhibit some panache, his world--all tents and swirling draperies and shadowy corners--emerges as dim and spooky rather than atmospheric. For an adult, the combination works well; children, however, will most likely greet the book with a tepid response. Despite its trappings, this is hardly a classic, and those bent on accumulating fine titles for their children would do well to look elsewhere. All ages. (Apr.)
This dramatic picture book adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's "Appointment in Samarra" will be appreciated by older readers. Set in Baghdad, it is the story of Abdullah, servant to a wealthy merchant, who sees Death, disguised as an old woman, staring at him in the marketplace. Fearing for his life, Abdullah asks his master for a horse so that he may ride to Samarra and escape his fate. Once his servant is gone, the merchant seeks Death out in the market and asks why she looked so threateningly at his servant. "Threateningly? It was more a look of surprise. I was taken aback to see him here in Baghdad. You see, I have an appointment with him tonight . . . in Samarra." The brief text and the "Twilight Zone" ending may be just the ticket to catch the attention of kids who are normally not readers. The whole package, in fact, is very effective. Essley's handsome full-page spreads done in chalks capture the bustle of the market, the terror of the servant, and the inevitability of death. Even though the surprise of the ending only lasts through one reading, there's a haunting quality to both story and art that will continue to attract.