Summary and book reviews of The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein

The Old Country

By Mordicai Gerstein

The Old Country
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  • Hardcover: May 2005,
    144 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2006,
    144 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Author's Note
I think all stories are about the mystery of being human. My childhood curiosity about my grandparents' mysterious 'Old Country,' and a chance encounter with a fox in the woods, came together and were first explored in a short story I called Fox Eyes. But the ideas continued to grow and ripen and join with images from a Wallace Stevens poem read long before, until suddenly, after several years, I found myself writing The Old Country, which almost seemed to write itself. How can I be sure these ideas are finished with me? There may be more to come."

Excerpt
The Old Country

Gisella's brother had taught her how to shoot. She aimed at the fox's chest. She had never killed anything before. She wondered if she could do it now. Her anger at the theft of the chickens and sadness at the loss of her brother were gone. She was alone, aiming an arrow at a fox who looked her in the eyes.

"What about my trial?" said the fox. "And why can't you look me in the eye?"

Gisella was startled. A talking fox! She had a small, nasal voice, like a little violin. An enchanted fox, thought Gisella. Then anger replaced surprise. "You stole our chickens," she said. "Give them back!"

"But, my dear girl," said the fox, "I didn't steal them. My lawyer will prove it, although really, you're the one who should do the proving. I'm completely innocent."

"How can there be a trial?" asked Gisella. "Where's the court? Where're the judge and jury...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Gerstein 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.

School Library Journal - Susan Hepler

This is a challenging burgoo of a novel and a rambling character-ridden tale that may have a difficult time finding and holding an audience. Grades 3-6.

Kirkus Reviews

A fable of many large ideas in a slim volume.....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. Ages 9-13.

Children's Literature - Terri L. Lent

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. Ages 10-14

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Beyond the Book

Mordicai Gerstein was born in Los Angeles in 1935 and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. After leaving the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles he got a job in an animated cartoon studio, and worked for many years in New York mainly on TV commercials.

In 1970 he met Elizabeth Levy, who would change the course of his life. She had written a mystery and was looking for an illustrator. The book ...

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