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THE UGLY DUCKLING by Kevin Crossley-Holland


adapted by Kevin Crossley-Holland & illustrated by Meilo So

Age Range: 4 - 8

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-81319-5
Publisher: Knopf

Crossley-Holland’s stately retelling of a familiar tale hews closely to Hans Christian Andersen’s original text, simplifying and tightening the plot elements and excising some of the more mawkish sentimentality. The language is a treat for the ears: “The storks went walking on their long red legs through the shining fields, and the sunlight settled on the shoulders of the castle.” The cruelty of the world is presented alongside the beauty, as the barnyard animals bite and peck the “duckling,” and the guns of hunters mow down a “great skein of wild geese.” So’s (It’s Simple, Said Simon, 2001, etc.) economical watercolor brushstrokes create barnyards bustling with activity and icy winter landscapes with equal skill and expression. Most of the illustrations depict scenes with many details, however, and with few exceptions, the “duckling” is relegated to a tiny segment of a crowded composition. This is at odds with a text that focuses so tightly on its subject, and renders him visually characterless. Words and pictures also sometimes contradict each other with the aging of the “duckling”—one notable example is an illustration of a fuzzy little cygnet accompanying text that indicates the bird has reached the age of flight. Those who own Jerry Pinkney’s 1999 adaptation will find that this offering is far from duplicative, both textually and pictorially, but despite its lovely text and the skill of its illustrative technique, it will still likely be an additional purchase. (Picture book. 4-8)