Book Review: Hortense and the Shadow

by Natalia O’Hara & Lauren O’Hara

I seldom read children’s literature these days, but I made an exception for this exquisitely illustrated book about a young girl who hates her shadow.

Sisters Lauren and Natalia O’Hara, from the north of England, have created a magical allegory with an old world feel. As youngsters they were excited by fairy tales and animal fables, and loved listening to their Polish grandmother tell stories on cold winter nights – and there is a palpable Eastern European look and wisdom to the spare narrative and snowy landscapes.

“Through the dark and wolfish woods, through the white and silent snow, lived a small girl called Hortense. Though kind and brave, she was sad as an owl because of one thing . . . Hortense hated her shadow.”

A delightful Christmas gift for a young person with a lively imagination.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House UK Children’s Puffin for supplying a copy of this title for review.

Book Review: Grimm’s Fairy Stories

by Jacob Grimm & Wilhelm Grimm

Taken from the East European oral tradition, and first published in 1812, these stories were originally collated and published in Germany by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

Although softened to appease Christian sensibilities of the day, this compilation still became a sort of cult horror anthology for children. Indeed, returning to these gruesome little tales as an adult, I can see that they are indeed ‘grim’, and make curious bedtime reading.

Even allowing for the Grimm brothers sanitisation of the stories, they remain far removed from Disney’s cinematic versions of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and all the other fluffy, uplifting animations so popular with modern movie-goers. Here, incest, cruelty, starvation, torture and violent death vie for space with the happily ever afters. (Decapitated gee-gee anyone?)

Thankfully my seven-year-old self was far less squeamish, and I dwelt not at all on the many sadistic happenings, but simply enjoyed reading about talking bears, heroic giant-slayers and sharp-witted wolves in red bonnets. In short, I was a typical child reader.

NB I don’t wish to appear a pedant, but surely the title, Grimm’s Fairy Stories, is grammatically incorrect. Shouldn’t it be Grimms’ Fairy Stories? I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.