Basic Plot Summary: A poor woman who wants a child plants a magical seed that grows a flower with a tiny girl inside. She names the girl Thumbelina. One night, Thumbelina is stolen by a toad who wants the little girl to marry her son. The fish in the river save her from the toad, but she is then taken by a beetle. When the beetle’s friends dislike Thumbelina, he sends her away and she wanders, homeless, in the winter cold, until she meets a field mouse who offers her shelter in exchange for housework. The mouse then wants Thumbelina to marry her neighbor, a mole, but Thumbelina doesn’t like him. She nurses a swallow back to health and he takes her to a land of fairies where she falls in love with and marries a fairy prince. The swallow flies off to a Danish writer and tells him the story.
Thumbelina was one of the stories in Hans Christian Andersen’s second volume of fairy tales, originally published in 1835 and initially not well received by critics. Over time, there have been a lot of different interpretations of this story, including those who see it as a condemnation of arranged marriages, an expose about the difficulties faced by those who are different and a call to female empowerment. The story has been adapted for film and television, including a 1994 animated version that I saw with my kids and remember almost nothing about, other than that I thought it was tedious. But I’m not a big fan of the original story, either, to be honest.
Thumbelina – Sylvia Long’s version of Thumbelina’s story is a gorgeous appreciation of nature and all its colors and creatures. The watercolor and ink illustrations showcase a huge variety of leaves, flowers, birds and other animals. The story’s text drags a little in places, making this a challenging read for short attention spans, but the pictures are truly lovely. (Chronicle Books, 2010)
Thumbelina – For an easier read, I highly recommend this version from author Brian Alderson. The book’s text is more concise, but it keeps all the original story elements and keeps the story engaging throughout. The gouache and watercolor illustrations from Bagram Ibatoulline are sumptuously detailed and full of gorgeous colors. Thumbelina has a wonderful expressive face here so we know how she is feeling about everything as it happens in the story. (Candlewick Press, 2009)
The Girl of the Wish Garden – The back story of how Uma Krishnaswami came to create this book gave me a greater appreciation for it. As a longtime fan of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, Ms. Krishnaswami discovered a Farsi picture book of the story from 1999 illustrated by Nasrin Khosravi. She was able to use those same illustrations, done in acrylic and tissue on paper, for this story and she let the artwork guide her telling of it. The artwork is unusual and lovely, but I think the story text is a little over fanciful. (Groundwood Books, 2013)
And what did we learn? What I take away from Thumbelina is that your life really becomes YOUR life when you start making your own decisions and following your own heart.