The Snow Queen: A Retelling of the Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen, retold by Alison Grace MacDonald, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

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=""target="_blank">Great Joy
by Kate di Camillo

 Source: Review Copy


Anonymous said…
Tanya, I "happened chanced" upon your site and began reading your blog. I was shocked to hear that you HATED Shel Silverstein's classic children's book, "The Giving Tree". I respect and understand why you might find the story depressing and unnerving; and, you support your opinion well. I believe the intent of Shel's story was not to leave the reader "happy", but ask them to take inventory of their life. This story is so profound on so many levels you may not have considered. I believe the tree to be a type of Christ (or perhaps a devoted parent). Jesus said to those who have chosen to be in relationship with Him, "You love me because I first loved you" as a parent loves their child before the child even know what love is. We (as God's children) can often take His grace, gifts and sacrifice for granted and only run to him when we are desperate or want something. We often grab it and run without even remembering to thank Him. Teenagers often act the same way toward their earthly parents. Many children with child-like faith and innocence understand the true dynamic of friendship. They understand the simplicity of love, which is quality time and giving to one another, equally and unconditionally. As we grow older it is very easy to become lured away by "the pride of life and the lust of the flesh" and give too much of our attention to other loves. (As do children with their earthly parents, consider the song "Cat in the Cradle). Like the Tree, God is always there and promises "to never leave us or forsake us" and if we wander or squander his gifts, He patiently waits for our return (as in the parable of the Prodigal son). I believe Shel Silverstein's book is special, because it is not a story that has the typical happy ending. Happiness, in my opinion, is fleeting. There are 2 profound themes conveyed at the end of this story that is so well constructed it leaves you deeply touched, and convicted to the point of change.(Unless you are as selfish as the young man). The man, in his older life, FINALLY stops to take inventory, and realizes what he has lost because of his selfishness,busyness and the error of his ways; however, he finds the tree continues to offer grace, love,forgiveness and is always there to receive him (again story of the prodigal). To be continued...
Anonymous said…
continued....The tree offers him the greatest of gifts: rest. Jesus said, "Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest unto your souls." I also believe the tree is a symbol of time, and like an hour glass, time eventually runs out and waits for no one. It serves as a reminder that the opportunity to return does not last forever, but the man, fortunately came to his senses just in the knick of time. With that realization,it is a happy ending. I wholeheartedly believe Shel Silverstein knew exactly what he was doing. That a man can create a story of such simplicity and complexity in a 50 page children's book with illustrations drawn with simple black lines...the reason why the majority of readers adore this book. The universal point of the book is to remind its readers NOT to be like this man. It is a wake up call to never lose touch with child-like faith and innocence, remain a giver not a taker; to not sprint but enjoy the journey without allowing work, and life to take priority over your relationship with God, your parents, spouse, children (family) and friends.The message of the book is: You can know rest and contentment throughout your entire life. you don't have to wait until it's over. In keeping with my belief that the tree is a type of a Christian God,this man has returned to the one who loved him first. It is a happy story because the man is truly sorry for his sins and finds salvation (rest to his soul);however,although forgiven, he still has regrets and leaves this earth without the comfort of other people by his side. I believe the sooner we can introduce children to this concept,the sooner they can start to make wise choices. jesus said, "I have not come into the world to condemn it, but I have come to give life and life more abundantly." have a merry Christmas. Nikki Zimmerman P.S. I am in the process of publishing a my first children's picture book called, "Pogo the Roving Pup". I Color work has just begun on the illustrations. It will be available through CreateSpace and sold on within the next 2 months. Perhaps you will like it, and give me(it) a good review. It breaks my heart that you don't like the Giving tree. :( But that's what makes our country great...freedom of press. :)
Tanya said…
Nikki - Thanks for your comments. I think the most amazing aspect of THE GIVING TREE, besides the polarizing nature of this seemingly simple picture book, is the fact that Silverstein himself never commented - in print - about the meaning of it. In all honestly, part of the reason I dislike the book so strongly is because of the ambiguity. But, learning to be comfortable with uncertainty is something I struggle with and work at. Maybe some day I'll be able to embrace this undeniably great book.

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