THE PERFECT WIZARD: Hans Christian Andersen

Jane Yolen, Author, Dennis Nolan, Illustrator
Jane Yolen, Author, Dennis Nolan, Illustrator , illus. by Dennis Nolan. Dutton $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-525-46955-1
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"Once upon a time, a baby was born on a bed that was made from a coffin platform," begins this illuminating picture-book–biography of Denmark's favorite storyteller, which deftly blends Andersen's real life events with his imagined world. Starting with this probably apocryphal story that Andersen liked to tell about himself, Yolen (Owl Moon ) immediately sets up the mingling of fact and fiction that so characterized the writer. The son of a cobbler and washer-woman, Andersen called his life "a beautiful fairy tale," and Yolen selects facts from his history that reveal both the harshness and wonder of the life he led. Each spread contains a full-page sepia-toned painting that illustrates the episode related about his life, opposite; in addition, Yolen selects a relevant quotation from one of Andersen's stories, accompanied by oval spot art. For instance, when Yolen describes the boy as "a gawky, long-legged lad... a stork among pigeons. A cuckoo in the nest. An ugly cygnet in a hatch of ducks," Nolan (Fairy Wings ) portrays the tall boy in his first stage role along with a quotation and spot illustration from Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling." The artist's work seems ideally suited to move fluidly from biographical moments to storybook images. Despite an unfortunate, cluttered design that tends to obscure Yolen's narrative (the quotes often appear in a larger font than the main text), the book intriguingly explores the fusion of an artist's work and life, and leaves readers with much to ponder. Ages 6-up. (Feb.)

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