Bagram Ibatoulline's stunning illustration style is well matched to any fairy tale he sets his sights on, but especially so with this superb retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Snow Queen. This complex, powerful tale seems well suited to the holiday, this edition especially, which is ideal for giving as a gift. And, if you are reading or giving this to an older child who is an avid reader, be sure to suggest (or give!) Anne Ursu's brilliant middle-grade novel, Breadcrumbs, which is a contemporary retelling of Andersen's story, equally complex and powerful. The new Disney animated movie Frozen is also loosely based on Anderson's story.
MacDonald and Ibatoulline's retelling unfolds over 40 pages and takes about twice a long as a typical picture book to read out loud, so keep this in mind if you hunker down to read it to the kids in front of the fire one night. The "Once Upon a Time" beginning of The Snow Queen tells readers of a wicked troll and his creation, a mirror that makes everything good reflected by it look ugly and everything evil look appealing. The troll intends to taunt the angels in the heavens with it, but it breaks into millions of pieces, some as small as tiny grains of sand, some sharp splinters. Whenever a piece gets into someone's eye, that person will forever see everything distorted. If a piece pierces someone's heart, that heart will turn to ice.
The Snow Queen tells the story of best friends and neighbors Gerda and Kai. When a small bit of the mirror gets in his eye and a shard pierces Kai's heart, he turns on Gerda, cursing and shunning her. Kai flees Gerda's warm home where they have been talking with her grandmother about the Snow Queen and her powers and hops onto a sled that is pulled by the Snow Queen herself, forgetting completely the life he is leaving behind, and disappears. While everyone else assumes Kai has drowned in the river, Gerda is sure he is still alive. She takes her best, new red shoes and offers them to the river, hoping the river will tell her where he is, and her journey begins.
Gerda travels down river and through kingdoms, roses and crows telling her that they know Kai is not dead, that they have seen him. Gerda is treated like a princess in one kingdom and given a golden carriage to travel in. When she is attacked by robbers, her life is spared so that she can be a companion to a spoiled robber girl with a menagerie of pets. At night the animals talk to Gerda, telling her where to go to find Kai.
Her journey takes her to Lapland on the back of a reindeer where a Finnish woman tells the reindeer that Gerda has the power to heal her friend within her, saying, "Look at all the animals and people who have served her. Look how far she has come, when she started out with nothing but bare feet. That is her true power." And indeed, when Gerda finds Kai sitting on the icy floor in the middle of the Snow Queen's palace, trying to form the word "eternity" from the shards of ice in front of him with the hopes of being freed from his imprisonment, it is her tears that fall on his chest, melting the shard of ice lodged in his heart. When he sees his best friend before him, his begins to cry himself, washing out the tiny shard of mirror that was in his eye. Gerda and Kai being their journey home, finding their city awash in the beauty of Springtime and, as they step through the doorway to their old homes where nothing has changed, they realize that they have changed. They are no longer children. But, they have each other.
Ibatoulline's illustrations are expansive, moving from the icy blues of winter and the Snow Queen to the golden spring as seen from a sunlit river then back to the frozen blues again. He captures the most moving moments of the story, drawing you into the world that Andersen has set before us.
Other books illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline:
Don't miss this other Christmas story, < href="http://candlewick.com/cat.asp?mode=book&isbn=0763629200&browse=Title"target="_blank">Great Joyby Kate di Camillo
Source: Review Copy