The most famous Danish writer for children, Hans Christian Andersen, died 136 years ago today. He is the father of the modern fairy tale, and I am one of his most dedicated students.
Of the many authors I admire, Hans Christian Andersen has influenced my children’s writing the most. His timeless stories have a universal appeal, and when I create a picture book, I strive to emulate his style.
My third picture book, POLLIWOG, was heavily influenced by Andersen’s THE UGLY DUCKLING. “At last the large egg broke, and a young one crept forth crying, ‘Peep, peep.'” The large duckling does not know he will become a swan. Likewise, in my story, little Polliwog does not realize she will turn into a frog. In homage to Andersen, the species of my frog is a Spring Peeper. Polliwog does not sing in my story because female spring peepers do not sing. Only the male frogs sing, ‘Peep, peep, peep,’ but Polliwog will lay eggs and hatch more little polliwogs thus continuing the circle of life.
POLLIWOG is a popular book with boys, but the boys often comment on the fact that Polliwog is female. Several boys asked me to put a male hero in my next book, so I chose to write about a sea horse. Although I was not consciously aware of it, I believe Andersen’s THE LITTLE MERMAID had some influence on my latest book, ‘SEA HORSE, RUN!’.
The opening lines of THE LITTLE MERMAID read: “Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above.”
The first lines of ‘SEA HORSE, RUN!’ are: “Far across the ocean, a reef kissed the surface of the water. Coral covered the reef, and Coral was alive. Coral loved to sing, but the only animal that could hear her song was Sea Horse.”
Hans Christian Andersen was born April 2, 1805 and died August 4, 1875.
136 years later, Hans Christian Andersen’s stories for children endure, and he continues to influence modern literature.
Read an essay about The Father of the Modern Fairy Tale by Terri Windling.
Visit the Hans Christian Andersen Center.
The Ugly Duckling (1844; On-line version annotated by Heidi Anne Heiner).
The Little Mermaid (1837; On-line version annotated by Heidi Anne Heiner).
Find more annotated fairy tales at SurLaLune FairyTales.com.