nonfiction nuggets…the man who spun fairy tales

The Perfect Wizard:  Hans Christian Andersen, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Dennis Nolan

The story of The Ugly Duckling, as you surely know,  follows one lone cygnet, misplaced among a nestful of ducklings.  Gawky and mismatched from the first crackling of its shell, the poor fellow endures ridicule and rejection until his true beauty emerges and everyone admires him — a regal swan.

This tale was written by Hans Christian Andersen, the famous Danish author of fairy tales, who lived an ugly duckling story of his own.  Anderson was born in 1805, grew up lanky, homely and preoccupied with a world of make-believe, endured  painful ridicule and setbacks as he pursued first acting and then writing, before finally emerging at the age of  30 as his homeland’s most famous writer.   He is the author of over 150 fairy tales, including The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, and The Little Mermaid, which have been translated into dozens of languages, illustrated by dozens of artists,  and made into movies, ballets, and musicals galore.

Jane Yolen’s biography of Andersen is a fascinating account, well-paced, informative, and accessible to children from ages 7 and up. Yolen’s story is filled with vivid anecdotes and descriptions which transport us into Andersen’s world.  We discover the profound influence of his mother’s superstitions and his father’s reading aloud on Andersen’s imagination.  We trace his awkward footsteps through early rough waters, to his first attempts as an actor, to his breakthrough publication of a volume of fairy tales.  We read about the dazzling circle of friends he acquired as a famous writer.  Sprinkled throughout the book are excerpts from his tales, chosen to reflect the connection between the man and his stories.

Dennis Nolan’s illustrations are soft, beautiful glimpses of sepia-toned scenes shot through with impressionistic color.  They augment the information in the biography perfectly, portraying the clothing and architecture and settings of Andersen’s life.

Here’s the Amazon link:   Perfect Wizard, The: Hans Christian Andersen