Monday, October 25, 2010

The Young Hans Christian Andersen

The Young Hans Christian Andersen
Whoo-hoo!  I made it to my 100th post!  Celebrate with me—ignore your housework for a while, pour yourself another cup of coffee, and find something beautiful to read, listen to, look at, or make today. 

For my part, I think it’s the perfect moment to share this magical little biography:  The Young Hans Christian Andersen, by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Erik Blegvad, Scholastic Press, 2005.  I saw it at our local library during one of my got-here-10-minutes-before-closing book grabs and thought, “Cool—biography of a dreamer.  Nice cover,” and stuffed it in my back-breaking tote bag.  Then I forgot about it for a week.  But oh, it’s such a beautiful book, and I’m so glad I sat down to read it.

For lack of a better word, I would call this a chapter book, but pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations grace every page and the chapters are brief—sometimes only a paragraph long.  The book itself is brief; the afterword and bibliography stretch it to 47 pages. 

Each vignette from Andersen’s life carries the title of one of his fairy tales, and the effect is rich and moving.  In “The Ugly Ducking” the author describes his physical features and his awkwardness, then continues, “He carried his genius like a slender bottle of champagne, its silent fizz stopped up, but determined.  And when he met with kindness, he became beautiful.”  “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” tells about his father’s return from serving in Napoleon’s army.  “The Ice Maiden” captures a young Hans Christian melting the frost on a window with a coin he heated on the stove in order to look past the disturbing image his father saw in the frost.

I recommend this book highly.  Karen Hesse captures so much with so few words—this biography reads almost like a fairy tale itself.  And it made me pull out our copy of Andersen’s complete fairy tales.  They are strange, sorrowful, magical stories, probably more for older children and parents than anybody else, stories that are hard to forget (were you haunted by “The Little Match Girl” or the not-Disney version of “The Little Mermaid” as I was?)  But that’s what can be so wonderful about this kind of literature, both Hesse’s biography and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales:  there is richness there for adult and child, alike. 

Read-aloud, anyone?
The Complete Illustrated Stories of Hans Christian Anderson


  1. Would love to celebrate your 100th post with a day cozying on the couch with a blanket, book, and hot chocolate. . .oh well!

    This looks like a great book! I've read a couple other Hesse books and enjoyed them, may have to check this out!

  2. I understand--if I spent a day on the couch it would mean I was really, really ill or completely incapacitated in some other way. I admit, I do steal moments sometimes, though! :)


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