Full of the landscapes one expects and looks forward to in Russian fairy tales, Hortense and the Shadow (Puffin) by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara is both elegant and ominous, poetic and dark, and enchanting. It tells the story of Hortense, a little girl who lives in the heart of the forest, and who hates her shadow so much, she is desperate to get away from it. When it finally happens, Hortense doesn’t feel the happiness and relief she was expecting, and when troubles comes to her door, she finds that maybe she needs her shadow after all.
Drawing from various folkloric motifs, Hortense and the Shadow offers a clever allegory of how children struggle with tumultuous feelings. It highlights the importance of accepting that darker emotions and feeling cross are just part of children, and that there is nothing to be scared or ashamed of. This is beautifully rendered in the language and artwork; the colour palette is delicious: quite dark at times, and with greys and blues conveying the cold wonderfully. Yet there is something comforting and safe about how the colours support the overall fairly dark tale. A little detail that I loved: the fact that Hortense, confronted by bandits, think they might be after books as well jewels, highlighting the their value.
This is a longer picturebook which will appeal to slightly older readers, and the gorgeous packaging makes it a perfect present for the season to come.
Folkloric influences ooze out of the pages, and a real passion for that genre can be sensed from both author and illustrator; I am therefore delighted to welcome Natalia and Lauren to Library Mice as they present their favourite fairy-tales.
Five spellbinding fairytales
by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara
When we were very small, about seven and four, our grandmother read us The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. “I read this when I was a little girl in Poland”, she said, “and I’ll tell you a secret: This story is full of magic. As you grow bigger, it will grow bigger too”. That was the beginning of our love of fairytales. Long or short, old or new, joyful or heart-breaking, we believe there is magic in fairytales too. Here are five illustrated fairytale books that have delighted, enchanted and inspired us.
The Snow Queen
Hans Christian Andersen & Errol le Cain, adapted by Naomi Lewis
A garden in the sky, a talking raven, a bandit princess, an ice palace… No story is more full of wonders than the Snow Queen. As children we asked for this book again and again. Errol le Cain’s illustrations, which subtly reference paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and the Pre-Raphaelites, resonate with Andersen’s dreamy melancholy. This is an edited version of the original seven-book novella, but the cuts are made with care and they make the story readable in one bedtime. This book was last published in 1981, but we never stop hoping it will be brought back.
The Necklace of Raindrops
Joan Aiken & Jan Pienkowski
One blustery night Mr. Jones rescues the North Wind, who is caught in a holly tree. He is rewarded with a marvelous gift: The North Wind will become godfather to his baby daughter Laura, and give her a necklace of raindrops. It will let her stop the rain, pass through storms unharmed or swim any ocean. We adored this book as children, and spent hours trying to make raindrops stick to bits of string. Joan Aiken’s words are full of spare poetry, which Jan Pienkowski fills with joy through his delicate but exuberant paintings.
Hedgehog in the Fog
Sergey Kozlov, Yuri Norstein & Francesca Yarbusova
Visiting his friend Bear to drink tea under the stars, Hedgehog follows a white horse into the fog and becomes lost. This lyrical animal fable, based on an animated film by the great Russian director Yuri Norstein, is surely the greatest movie tie-in book of all time.Hedgehog in the Fog was written by Norstein and the film’s screenwriter, Sergey Kozlov, who is also a poet, and illustrated by the animator Francesca Yarbusova. Even in translation the language is beautiful, the illustrations are glorious, and the story is full of quiet wisdom.
The Selfish Giant
Oscar Wilde & Lisbeth Zwerger
This picture book edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger, is full of surprises. While Wilde’s words are dense and precise, Zwerger’s watercolours are tender and fragile. They seem to touch a mood that lingers behind the words, deep inside Wilde’s stories. We love the restrained palette and surprising angles; we often seem to be watching the giant from above, as though we know a little more than he does. This story about selfishness, tyranny, exile and love seems more important every year. Another of Wilde’s stories, The Happy Prince, reappeared in a wonderful new edition illustrated by Maisie Paradise-Shearing this spring.
Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairytales
Hans Christian Andersen & Jiří Trnka
In 1968, Soviet troops marched into Czechoslovakia, and our mother, who was 13, was sent to her room to pack. Her suitcase would carry her from Prague, to Vienna, to Stoke-on-Trent, but instead of following her mum’s instructions and packing knickers and socks, she hid Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairytales under her favourite dress. We spent hours as children poring over her copy, which was bound in soft blue cloth and full of glorious full-page illustrations by the Czech artist Jiří Trnka. We couldn’t understand the words, which were in Czech, but that only made this book more intriguing. And it was fun to make up stories using the illustrations. An English edition, published in 1960, occasionally appears on AbeBooks.
Thank you so much Natalia and Lauren, what a beautiful selection of fairy tales!
Hortense and the Shadow is out now and can be purchased here.