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Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina    by Lauren Mills order for
Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina
by Lauren Mills
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Lauren Mills does a lovely job of retelling and illustrating Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina. A widow, who longs for a child, seeks help from a wise witch. The old woman speaks ambiguously (as witches often do), saying 'Well, maybe I can and maybe I can't', giving the widow a barleycorn to plant.

A lovely tulip grows and bursts open to reveal a tiny girl, smaller than the woman's thumb. When the witch visits, the widow reveals her fear for Thumbelina's safety after she dies, as must happen some day. The witch advises her that children start to care for themselves 'only after you've let them go.' So one day, the old lady opens the window onto a wider world of adventure for the little girl she loves.

First, a toad takes Thumbelina as a bride for her son, but fish help her escape. Then a beetle flies her up into a tree, but drops her down on the forest floor when his fellows declare her to be ugly. She lives in the woods through the summer, eating nectar, drinking dew, and watching for her mother. In winter, she shelters with a field mouse, and nurses a sick swallow, who later saves her from marriage to a boring mole and flies her south to warmer climes.

There she meets a fairy king, becomes queen of all the flowers, and receives wings as a wedding gift. The swallow 'sang her story wherever he went.' This luminous retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina is accompanied by delicately detailed watercolors, and presents a stronger character than the passive original - this Thumbelina seeks her fortune but she makes it too.

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