retold by Kate Coombs, illustrated by John Nickle
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012
Reviewed from copy received from publisher for review.
Opinions expressed are solely my own.
BLURB: A classic tale of love and acceptance from the Brothers Grimm is beautifully rendered in this magical retelling. Hans is an unusual boy. Born a hedgehog from the waist up, he knows what it’s like to truly be an outcast. Even his amazing fiddle playing can’t help him fit in. So Hans flees to the forest with his herd of loyal pigs and only his music to keep him company. But then a most unusual thing happens: When Hans crosses paths with two kings with two lovely daughters, his luck starts to change. Will this lonely soul find true love after all? This lively and lyrical retelling of the classic Grimm’s tale, paired with lush, detailed illustrations, reminds us of the power of music, the importance of belonging, and the transformative effect of love.
I enjoy a good folktale, but I generally read adapted versions. The Grimms Brothers fairy tale versions are usually too dark for my taste and they seem to revolve around justice and violence. I prefer stories that are uplifting and positive. That's not to say that I don't see the need for consequences when characters behave badly, I just don't like gruesome justice. Kate Coombs has taken the original story and tweaked it enough to make it one I feel comfortable sharing with my students.
Hans is a sympathetic character wanting to be loved and accepted by those around him. He has a great talent in creating music with his fiddle. I appreciated the fact that he had to work hard to develop this talent. When he is rejected he leaves home to live in the nearby enchanted forest with a herd of pigs and a beautiful, flying rooster. The kings, the one who intends on keeping his promise and the one who doesn't (see above summary) provide the moral in this fairy tale. Appropriately, the king who breaks his promise is punished (loses have his fortune) and the king, who keeps his promise receives a very talented son-in-law. I liked the fact that Hans broke his own curse through the beauty of his music. A well-told fairy tale worth adding to most fairy tale collections (makes for a great comparison with similar stories, like Beauty and the Beast).
I was not really excited about the illustrations when I first read the story. But in looking at them a second time, I've decided that they suit the story quite well. I liked the way the illustration integrated musical notes into the pictures to capture the importance of Hans's music in the story. Nickle also added some nice humorous touches. For example, the bad king, his daughter, and guards all wearing pink, definitely funny. Also, the picture where Hans is wearing only underwear and the reader sees for the first time the contrast between Hans's hedgehog half and his human half. The mention of underwear is almost always a laugh getter for children. The picture of the pigs wearing crowns and pearls is also amusing. I found it interesting that we don't actually see the face of the second princess until we see Hans as a complete human. The only problem I had with the illustrations was the leafless trees in the forest. This seemed odd to me. Otherwise I enjoyed the book.
Tell us about your book.
Hans is the story of a boy who is born human from the waist down and hedgehog from the waist up. Needless to say, he doesn't have a lot of friends—just the herd of pigs he takes with him to live in the forest when he goes off with his fiddle, riding on a rooster. But in time, kings and promises and the magic of Hans's music bring him a happy ending.
Please provide a favorite excerpt from your book.
Each note slipped between the trees like a spell. The pigs, listening below, were steeped in magic.
Where can readers find you and your book?
The library, I hope! Barnes and Noble is carrying it in at least some stores that I know of, but their turnover is often rather quick, so you can always go to Amazon. I hope your local independent has it—for me that's The King's English in Salt Lake City, Utah.
What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?
I had so many favorites! One I really loved (and still love) is The Silver Curlew by Eleanor Farjeon. It's a middle grade retelling of "Rumpelstiltskin" (or rather "Tom Tit Tot," as the British version is called). The book also brings in elements of a nursery rhyme. It's funny and adventurous! I read a lot of fairy tale collections, too.
Can you share 5 random facts about yourself?
I collect seashells and frog princes.
I write teachers' guides for state history books for 3rd/4th and 7th/8th graders.
I drew the portrait (of a younger me!) on my blog header myself.
I avoid super-serious grown-up movies because they make me sad for days.
I have 15 bookshelves in my house.
I doodle a lot, mostly adding decorative serifs to letters, but also swirls and fancy bullet points.
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Ah, the decadence! My favorite is Ben and Jerry's Phish Food.
What do you especially like about folktales? dislike?
I like the way they have definite shapes and types, but still manage to surprise. I like that they are a haiku (and often superior) version of those sprawling fantasy novels. I like that the tales from different countries are so different. For example, Japanese fairy tales are less likely to have the kind of happy ending expected in a traditional European tale.
Dislike? If you get really into folktales and read the older, complete collections, you'll find some boring ones. And I'm less interested in tales about a cast of animals interacting in humorous ways than in the ones with dragons, princesses, and enchanted boys who are half-hedgehog.
Be sure to visit Kate's blog for a complete list of locations for Hans the Hedgehog's blog tour.