Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Beautiful, Frozen World of Hans Brinker (From the Hand of Gifted Artist, Laurel Long!)

I've got another beautiful picture book to add to my list of winter reads: Hans Brinker, (2007) retold by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Laurel Long

This is an adapted and obviously very abridged version of the 1865 classic children's novel Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge. 

Mary Mapes Dodge's enthusiastically interwoven little explanations and asides about Dutch history and culture throughout her original story captivated children when it was published.

Homeschoolers and children who love getting lost in a good book will still enjoy the lengthy, didactic original, but these days, not all kids may appreciate such an "armchair travel" type book.  

As Bruce Corville, author and adapter of the newer version, points out in the "Note" at the end of his picture book:

"the Internet now offers so many ways to learn about a place like Holland...underneath the book's wealth of social, geographical, and historical data pulses a charming and quite moving story about a family struggling to thrive against great odds. It is this story that Laurel Long and I have tried to bring to the forefront of our adaptation."  

Corville's abridged adaptation definitely loses the charm of Mary Mapes Dodge's descriptive and adept story telling, but Laurel Long's stunning illustrations make up for it in that they help you see the charm and beauty of the missing text! 

Long's radiant, detailed paintings that illustrate this book are not to be missed.  They remind me of those you'd see on traditional Russian lacquer boxes...

Set against a backdrop of frozen canals, this beloved tale is about how 15 year old Hans Brinker - a most honorable hero - and his younger sister Gretel long to compete in their Dutch village's most exciting event of the year: the great ice-skating race!  

Such lovely endcovers of blue delft!
Just like my blue delft plate!

The Brinkers are poor. With their hand-carved wooden skates, the brother and sister don't seem to have a chance against their well-trained friends, who own steel blades. The prize for the winners of the race?  Silver Skates, of course. 

The conflict?  The reason Hans' family is poverty stricken is that the father, "Raff" Brinker, is sick and has amnesia from a head injury caused by a fall from the dike, and cannot remember or communicate where he has hidden their savings.  (By the way, in the M.M. Dodge original story, Raff is prone to quite violent outbursts - lots of Victorian Era drama there!)

Hans, Gretel, and their mother must work very hard to make up for their incapacitated father's lost job and wages. They are looked down on by most of their community, but luckily a kind doctor enters their lives...

I hope you'll read this truly heart-warming story with your kids - either version - you may be surprised at who wins the race!  (I absolutely love the original story by Mary Mapes Dodge, and treasure my 1926 vintage copy.  You can read it here, on Project Gutenberg.)

Best for ages 8 and up.

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