It is amazing how fairy tales can be twisted and turned and what fun authors and illustrators have doing it. I like most of these fractured fairy tales but I must confess, I think there are way too many of them being published. Just check this list from Hennepin County Public Library:
So my heart warms when I read a retelling of a traditional tale that adapts the story to fit our times without sacrificing the essence of the tale. Enter Hans My Hedgehog, a lesser-known Grimm fairy tale retold by Kate Coombs and illustrated by John Nickle.
The story is about a boy who is born a hedgehog from the waist up. When he is old enough, he flees to the forest on a rooster accompanied by his loyal pigs and his trusty fiddle. His music is almost magical and leads first one lost king, then a second one to him. He helps them out of the forest and each unwisely promises Hans that he can have the first thing he lays his eyes upon if he helps the king return safely. Naturally, the first thing Hans sees is the king’s beautiful daughter. The first king refuses to honor his promise and gets justly punished. But Hans eventually marries the second princess and finds a way to break his enchantment.
The original Grimm story has numerous elements that are quite disturbing as well as a dark, convoluted plot. Coombs makes some excellent adjustments such as giving Hans kind and loving parents, putting the pigs in charge of the revenge on the first king, and letting Hans, through the power of his music, find the solution to his problem. The result is a warm, funny story about a misfit hero who, though prickly, takes charge of his destiny and uses his skills to turn his misfortune into magic and transformation.
The illustrations add tremendously to the warmth and humor. They have a classical feel, rich in detail and color and feature a variety of perspectives and silhouettes and funny scenes such as Hans trying to pull his wedding clothes over his prickles.
This is, all in all, a satisfying story with a hero that any child would cheer for. It is also a great book to nudge children into a discussion about the importance of belonging and what it feels like to not fit in.