cover image The Little Match Girl

The Little Match Girl

Hans Christian Andersen, , illus. by Kveta Pacovská, trans. by Anthea Bell. . Penguin/Minedition, $18.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-698-40027-6

Bell (The Little Mermaid ) renders Andersen's story with painful vividness, resisting the urge to draw attention to her own prose. Instead Pacovská's stark expressionist plates dominate the pages. An éminence grise among European illustrators, she fully exploits the media in which she works. Collages overlaid with pastel and felt-tip pen, printed on heavy, glossy stock, represent elements of the Little Match Girl's story. Her life unfolds as bold red–scribbling, terrifying chaos. Her frozen feet are white lines on black, while smaller drawings experiment with other deceptively simple ways of drawing feet and matches. A little red "WHoosh!" taped into a narrow gap between blocky, steel-gray apartment buildings indicates where she sits; later, a shooting star foretells her death. The star falls across a full-bleed spread, its path on the left page stenciled into shiny silver foil, like a lake or a mirror; the right-hand page depicts a series of pastel smudges arranged in a grid that seem to stand for the tears and dirt on the Little Match Girl's face, but also resemble an artist's palette. With smaller fragments of silver, the star strikes the heroine. Every page contains a similar shock, a moment of alienation, and yet viewers will likely feel the rightness of these images for one of Andersen's most disturbing stories. This rendering will be best suited to those who know the tale well and can appreciate this intellectual, abstract presentation. All ages. (Sept.)