Gr 3-5-- As in The Painter and the Wild Swans (Dial, 1986), Clement presents an allegorical literary tale with a subtext of transformation. A mysterious vagabond who claims to be a polisher of stars is scorned and refused food in a small village. He captures the imagination of a lonely orphan who follows him to watch as he raises his great ladder, climbs into the heavens, and sets to work. Wishing to help, the boy pursues the stranger into the sky. Meanwhile, on Earth, two loutish woodcutters chop the ladder down. Stranded, the two travel together, lighting the night sky as a shooting star. Everything about this enigmatic tale is gracefully accomplished. The language is spare and pleasing to read aloud. The painterly illustrations lend a heavy mythic quality, from the bleak, gray landscape of Earth to the dark, windswept sky, lighted by the star polisher's work. Unusual perspectives and striking page design heighten the drama. The deitylike stranger, a mere speck on his towering ladder, climbs above the clouds, while on the opposite page the boy watches spellbound. Yet there seems to be a pretentious quality about the whole that, beautiful as it is, may not readily find an audience. While the symbolic meanings of our authentic mythical archetypes are clear, young readers here may find themselves struggling for meaning, more puzzled than satisfied. Jerrie Oughton's How the Stars Fell into the Sky (Houghton, 1992) is a less esoteric retelling of star origination, from the Navajo tradition. Where older readers are studying and writing their own myths and pourquoi tales, this may be of use. --Kate McClelland, Perrot Memorial Library, Greenwich, CT
Carrying a ladder, a stranger passes through a small village. "I polish the stars," he announces to the woodcutters who derisively ask him his trade. The stranger, who is followed by a young, homeless boy, sets his ladder in the middle of a field and begins to climb. The boy watches from below as the stranger takes a rough rag from his pocket and starts to polish a star. Wanting to help, the boy climbs up to join the stranger. When the woodcutters come across the ladder in the middle of the field, they chop it down for kindling. Up above, the boy and the stranger ride from star to star, "bringing light to the night of the world." Brooding and moody, the book has little immediate child appeal. Characters' faces are sometimes not well defined, and the story's resolution is rather pat. Yet the romantic tale is set in an appropriately romantic landscape, and the paintings--misty watercolors in twilight shades of blue and gray--have a certain mystery and sweep. An intriguing if somewhat remote picture book.