''It was dark...,'' announces the big, flowing white print against an empty, velvety black background. The opening of this Cherokee legend is as elemental as the Genesis story's.
Throughout her visually stunning retelling of how the animals brought sunlight to the dark side of the earth, author Roth deploys her strong black-and-white effects like a magician, always suggesting much more than she shows. The book jacket says the pictures are collages, but they have the dramatic starkness and depth of woodcuts. In the crowded darkness of perpetual night, the animals' eyes glow like yellow sparks.
Each creature in turn sets out to try to fetch the sun; Roth depicts their journeys in semi-abstract designs that evoke the symbolism of Native American art.
Naturally, since this is a folk tale, it is the smallest and weakest among the animals who eventually succeeds. When Spider volunteers, the other animals protest: ''You? You're too small.'' ''And too old.'' ''You're a woman.'' But Spider, with her small clay pot, wins the day and brings back the light.
As the story reaches its joyful conclusion, the pictures explode with color and lyrical splashes of increasingly bold patterns, and brilliant yellow replaces black as the background. Roth's illustrations in The Story of Light are not only exciting, they're hypnotic. A+