Jacques Marsal was intrigued with the prehistoric bones and tools that his teacher showed him. When he got to see the cave paintings at Font de Gaume, he was amazed. So when he and three other boys discover a cave, they want to explore it. Following a tunnel into the earth on their hands and knees, they found an enormous cave. On the cave walls were paintings that looked like they had just been painted. They explored the cave for several days, finding paintings even down a deep shaft. Jacques insisted that they show the paintings to his teacher who at first thought they were playing a trick on him. But when he saw the paintings and an expert confirmed them, they all knew that they had found a treasure on the walls of the cave.
McCully tells the tale with plenty of details, allowing readers to understand the time period and the length of time the boys explored the cave. These details make the history come alive. The boys are depicted as real boys who play war, explore caves without any equipment and are tempted to keep the cave a secret. They are human rather than heroes. McCully’s afterword offers some more of the history of Lascaux, explaining what happened after the book ended.
McCully’s illustrations done in ink and watercolor have a great contrast between daylight and the caves. In daylight, the colors are light and vibrant. The underground illustrations have an effective darkness around them, conveying the thickness of the earth around the caves. McCully moves successfully between her finely detailed illustrations and the more primitive paintings on the cave itself. The contrast between the two styles makes sure that readers know that these are depictions of the cave paintings.
A book that should delight readers who enjoy history and adventures. Use this as a great introduction to the caves themselves and expect to have lots of requests for images from the caves themselves. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Also reviewed by 100 Scope Notes.