cover image The Young Hans Christian Andersen

The Young Hans Christian Andersen

Karen Hesse, , illus. by Erik Blegvad. . Scholastic, $16.99 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-439-67990-9

This unconventional biography offers an impressionistic series of vignettes roughly based on seminal events from Andersen's childhood through to the point at which he leaves home at 14. But the book unfortunately falls short of placing Andersen's significance as a literary figure into a historical context for young readers. Hesse waits until the afterword, for instance, to mention that her subject grows up to be a famous writer, and many scenes teeter on melodrama. Describing the boy's experience visiting a lunatic hospital, the author writes, "He knew he shouldn't stop in this place where madness raced like blood through the veins of the walls, but he couldn't help himself." Hinting at some unnamed, future accomplishment, Hesse says the boy "carried his genius like a slender bottle of champagne, its silent fizz stopped up, but determined." The tightly constructed narrative brims with other more memorable images, yet only readers already familiar with the topic will understand the frequent, oblique references to Andersen's later works. Blegvad (who himself has translated Andersen's works in Twelve Tales ) creates sometimes comical pen-and-inks with watercolor wash that depict a gawky hero reminiscent of Ichabod Crane, and the occasional town scenes and landscapes resemble enchanting, jewel-bright etchings. Although it is biographical, the book reads more like a novel about an awkward and sensitive child who believes he will one day be famous. Ages 7-10. (Oct.)