Revisiting the age-old story of Rumpelstiltskin, Moser adds original details and plenty of Southern charm. His tale commences slyly and circuitously, with the chatter of men telling stories to outdo one another. When mean Hezakiah Sweatt hears that Bessie Grace up on the hill spins cotton into gold, he demands to see her immediately. The ``widow woman'' laughs at the tall tale, but Sweatt locks her into a barn with a bundle of cotton and holds her baby hostage, demanding that Bessie Grace produce gold by the next morning. A ``peculiar little man'' helps her succeed in her impossible task, kills off Sweatt and helps Bessie Grace to escape but, true to his model, he will claim her child--unless she can come up with his unusual name. The Southern setting adds a comfortable feel as the text swings along, lazy but purposeful, with a wonderful cadence to its language. Moser's faultlessly crafted watercolors mainly depict people, not action, highlighting facial expressions with the artist's trademark use of light and shadow. Unfortunately, like portraits in a family album, the pictures seem overly passive. The movement and energy of evil and magic are missing. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)
Gr 1 Up-As he did with The Tinderbox (McElderry, 1988), Moser presents a retelling of a fairy tale-this time ``Rumpelstiltskin''-in a Southern setting. Instead of a king, there is the greedy and brutal Hezakiah Sweatt. The heroine is not a feckless girl, but a sweet young widow with a baby daughter. Bessie Grace comes to Hezakiah's attention through the tall tales of old men swapping stories outside the general store. She shows more gumption than her traditional counterpart, as she discovers Tucker Pfeffercorn's name herself; and once the nasty little man has disappeared, instead of living happily ever after with the king (a dubious honor in the Grimm version), she gives some of the spun gold to her church and then moves with her daughter to Cincinatti. With minimal use of dialect, Moser has created the cadence of Southern mountain speech. The book is well designed, with the text in clear type facing full-page illustrations. The masterful watercolor portraits are outstanding. Hezakiah, leaning against the store counter, paunch thrust forward and eyes narrowed, is obviously mean and ruthless. Readers' first view of Tucker Pfeffercorn gives the impression of sly and cunning evil that makes his willingness to help Bessie suspect. This successful translation of an old story into a different cultural setting underscores the universality of classic fairy tales in Western literature.-Karen James, Louisville Free Public Library, KY
Moser sets the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale in a contemporary southern gothic setting. From the beginning you notice everyone's name: names have power in this story. The company boss, Hezekiah Sweatt, the meanest and richest man in the mountains, hears a "crazy tale" that a 19-year-old widow, Bessie Grace Kinzalow, can spin cotton into gold. She denies it, but Sweatt locks her up in a shed and threatens to kill her baby if she doesn't provide the gold by morning. Strong-willed though she is, she can't fight the powerful boss and his thugs. Then a peculiar little man appears in the night and spins the gold for her. One day he returns and demands her baby as his price--unless she can guess his name. As in "The Tinderbox" (1990), Moser intensifies the mystery of the traditional story by bringing it close to home. The colloquial voice--both comic and scary--roots the tale in a strongly realized place, and Moser's full-page watercolors portray ordinary people in the community: from the miners swapping tall tales at the company store to fearless young Bessie Grace in her overalls, dreamy and strong, holding her late husband's jacket around her. The glaring boss in suit and tie is right out of a gangster movie. The strange, little bald man in a denim jacket, might--perhaps--be living down the road. There's just the right touch of menace in the cover portrait: smiling Bessie Grace cuddling her baby, the little man a dark silhouette in the golden background.