Friday, April 2, 2010

REVIEW: Hans Christian Andersen: His Fairy Tale Life

Varmer, H. (2005).  Hans Christian Andersen:  His fairy tale life.  (T. Nunnally Trans.).  Toronto:  House of Anansi Press.


Today is technically Hans Christian Andoerson's birthday.  If he were still alive, he'd be super old!!!!!!!!!  Yay for being born over 200 years ago in 1805!

PLOT SUMMARY:  This is a longer (111 pages) picturebook that shares the complete biography of author Hans Christian Anderson.  The book does emphasize his youth and the fact that he was often ostracized by...oh, EVERYONE.

While this is a text-heavy book that's split into eleven chapters, there are still highly-stylized illustrations on just about every page.  Also, portraits of Andersen are incorporated here or there.

I found this biography to be an engrossing narrative of Andersen's life, with lots of details.  I felt like I got a good idea of who Hans was as a child, dreamer and artist.  As with many of Andersen's fairy tales, it was hard not to root for him since he was such a pitiable and rejected figure.


This is a good recommendation for a student who has to write a biographical sketch on Andersen or for a student who is interested in learning about the man who created some of western culture's classic stories.  A few pages here or there could be incorporated into a lesson on the history of Denmark.

Aside from being used as a straight forward biography, chapters of His Fairy Tale Life could be read aloud to emphasize the fact that, like Hans, students can overcome rejection, having few resources, being ostracized by others, having lost a parent, dealing with a parent who drinks, etc.

But seriously all of the obstacles Varmer shows Andersen overcoming and all of the perseverance he showed throughout his youth is SUPER-DUPER-TIMES-1,000 inspiring. For reals, I've been dealing with email rejections on my stories, but reading this book helped me remember that I can endure.  The same could happen with students who feel like they don't fit in, are applying to advanced school programs or college.  This is also a good book to encourage a love of literacy, since Andersen prioritized reading and getting books above unnecessary stuff like, you know, eating food.  Why ingest food when there ideas afoot?


"In the spring of 1805 a baby boy named Hans Christian Andersen was born in the kingdom of Denmark.
For the first few days after his birth his mother, Anne Marie Andersdatter, lay in bed while his father read aloud to her.  Whenever the newborn child cried, his father would say, "Go to sleep now, or listen quietly" (p. 6).

"He lived in the world of his imagination, where there was always plenty of food and everything was radiant and abundant.
But when he walked down the street with his eyes closed, the neighbors started to talk.  "That boy must have bad eyes," they said.  They couldn't understand what was the matter with Hans Christian.  He wasn't like other children" (p. 13).

"But Hans Christian had other plans for his future.  He was still reading a great deal, and he especially liked reading about men who had grown up poor and then became rich and famous.  He was convinced that his own life would turn out the same way" (p. 36).

"At long last he managed to have the first scene printed in a magazine.  Seeing his name in print was a much greater even than seeing his name on a theater handbill.  Hans Christian Andersen--author!" (p. 60).


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