Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Picture Books
The Tinderbox

The Tinderbox

Spring 2007 Picture Books
Ages: 6 & Up
Author: Hans Christian Andersen
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
Told By: Stephen Mitchell
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 978-0-7636-2078-3
Hardcover Price: $17.99
This violent tale, one of Andersen's more horrific narratives, is not as frequently rendered in picture book form as some of his (marginally) more benign offerings. Last illustrated and adapted by Barry Moser in 1990 (set in the American south) and before that by Warwick Hutton in 1988 (set in a fairytale world of castles and kings), The Tinderbox tells of a soldier who beheads a witch after she helps him acquire a fortune in gold, kidnaps a princess by night with the aid of three magical dogs, and tosses the king and queen (who rightfully object to his courting ways) “into the air so high that when they came down, their bones broke into many pieces and they all died.” While modern sensibilities may quail at the injustice of it all, there is a certain grisly satisfaction in seeing the downtrodden—who must live by their wits and little else—not only triumph but assume the throne as well. Does today's political climate give added resonance to this tale? In any event, Ibatoulline's illustrations do it full justice: his witch comes equipped with snakes in her hair and a (human?) bone sticking out of her bag; his dogs are snaggle-toothed brutes; and his princess suitably lush. Detailed fine-line cross-hatched drawings, pales tints, and Rubenseque figures are reminiscent, at times, of Sendak, and at others seem to pay homage to the old masters of European art. This ideal melding of text and illustration will bring a whole new readership to this lesser known tale.
Kristi Elle Jemtegaard   ©2007 Parents' Choice
Kristi Elle Jemtegaard is the Coordinator of Youth Services for the Arlington Public Library system. She has taught courses on children’s and young adult literature at the Catholic University of America and the University of Virginia. She has served on both the Newbery and Caldecott Award Committees of the American Library Association and has chaired the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee and the May Hill Arbuthnot Award Committee. She is a member and past president of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington DC and has chaired the Washington Post–Book Guild Nonfiction Award Committee. She is a founding member of Capitol Choices, an organization of professionals in the field of children’s literature in the greater Washington DC area. She regularly reviews children’s literature and audio productions for a variety of national publications.

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