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Friday, October 10, 2014

Novels as Picture Books: Hans Brinker, by Bruce Coville and Laurel Long

Hans Brinker, Retold by Bruce Coville, Illustrated by Laurel Long

I have long been a fan of Bruce Coville. His books are full of imagination, wonder, fun, humor, suspense, magic, and characters that readers can relate to. I'm also a huge fan of my public library system. My daughters and I are at one (or both) of our local branches 3-5 times a week and we always load up on two things:

1. Nonfiction picture books relating to animals/insects (my 5-year-old gravitates toward the hairless creatures: Komodo dragons, dung beetles, spiders, sharks, fleas, etc. I once said, "How about something with a little bit of fur?" and she picked the muskrat book) 

2. Picture books

I was beyond delighted to discover this 2007 retelling of Hans Brinker because a) the cover and illustrations are absolutely enchanting and b) I read the novel (by Mary Mapes Dodge, first published in 1865) as a young girl and upon our return home, found my copy:

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here's a short summary:

Set against a backdrop of Holland's frozen canals in a winter wonderland, the year's most exciting event in a little Dutch village is about to take place. But will Hans Brinker and his sister Gretel, with their hand-carved wooden skates, be able to compete against their well-trained young friends who own fine steel blades?

The novel is full of Dutch historical and cultural information and was a bestseller upon publication. By today's standards, young Hans might be seen as too good to be true (as noted by Mr. Coville in his Author's Note). We tend to like our characters multi-layered and a bit more flawed than the almost-perfectly virtuous Hans. But I would argue that the heart of Hans Brinker remains something that even the cynical among us can't deny is pretty darn nice~ the heart of the book tells us that children like Hans~ sturdy, loyal, kind, good~ do indeed exist and have traits that all of us, even the most flawed, can take something useful from. 

I had a wonderful sense of nostalgia while reading this picture book to my girls. It's not easy to condense a novel's essence and capture plot points in a way that honors the original and doesn't confuse those unfamiliar with the story, but Bruce Coville's retelling of Hans Brinker does all of that. His Author's Note at the end of the book is fantastic as well, making excellent observations about the original book's meaning and Hans's place in the world of literary characters.

Laurel Long's illustrations are magical. There's nothing more I can say.

Have you read any exceptional novel-to-picture-book retellings? Please let me know in the comments!

I'll leave you with a few images from the book and encourage you to either buy it and add it to your home collection permanently or check it out from your local library.

Author's Note

Back of the book