Friday, October 8, 2010

The Ugly Duckling, retold and illustrated by Sebastien Braun

I've loved all the Sebastien Braun books I've read so far...until this one.

I still love his illustrations - thick outlines, strong greens and yellows, gently humorous eyes, sparkling drops of water.

I just can't take his retelling. In Braun's retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's classic story, Mother Duck is surprised when she sees her giant, ugly chick, but says "I shall love this one just the same." She repeats this refrain as the ugly duckling is tormented by all the other poultry. Then the ugly duckling gets lost, spends a cold winter, meets the swans and realizes he is beautiful. The end.

Apparently his mother's unconditional love didn't inspire him to return to her. Is she upset he's still missing? Does she care? We don't know. In the original story, his mother originally defends him a little, "It is a drake, and therefore not of so much consequence. I think he will grow up strong, and able to take care of himself." But as the other fowl in the poultry yard torment him, including his siblings, his mother eventually comes to dislike him as well "his mother said she wished he had never been born."

Obviously, Braun retold this story for much younger children and didn't want to include the ugly duckling's rejection by his family. But in the process, he has removed the main point of this story - sometimes everyone thinks you're useless and ugly. Some kids are unwanted by their families. But you can still become a swan. Is The Ugly Duckling a good story for young children? Depends on the child. I've seen several requests over the past few months for adoption stories for young children that didn't feature a loving birth mother. Some young children have painful lives. They need stories that celebrate resilience and offer them hope that they can prove wrong all the people who have told them they're not wanted. Children whose parents do offer unconditional love need to know that not all children have the same. They need to be able to empathize with others.

There are plenty of cute stories about parents loving their children which are suitable for bedtime. Trying to soften the story of the Ugly Duckling into this mold was unnecessary.

Verdict: Not recommended. Add some of Sebastien Braun's other picture books if you want sweet bedtime stories of love and cuddles, but pick out some more faithful retellings if you're looking for Ugly Duckling books.

ISBN: 9781907152047; Published April 2010 by Boxer Books; Reviewed from library copy.

No comments: