by Jane Langton. Illustrated by Ilse Plume (
(Canada)Out of Print
Finished: Mar. 25,
First Published: 1985
Publisher: Harper & Row
Genre: children, picture book, folktale
“A long time ago, when pretzels still fell from the sky like rain, an old farmer and his wife sat by their doorstep at the edge of the great forest”
Publisher’s Summary: “A long time ago, when pretzels still fell from the sky like rain, the Forest Mother gave an old childless couple a special basket. Inside, the farmer and his wife were surprised to find a baby covered with sharp prickles, like a hedgehog. But the lonely couple didn’t mind the strange prickles. They loved the child as their own.
The hedgehog baby grows into a hedgehog boy tending his father’s pigs alone in the great forest until, one night, he saves the life of a beautiful princess on a runaway horse.
From that moment on, the hedgehog boy can think only of the princess. But his love for her is without hope until he meets her father, the king. And suddenly he knows what he must do.
Jane Langton’s lyrical retelling of this ancient Latvian folktale is illuminated by Ilse Plume’s illustrations that capture the magic of a time long, long ago.”
Acquired: Purchased used from the library’s “for sale” table.
Reason for Reading: I love fairytales/folklore and this one appealed to me first because Langton is a favourite author and I didn’t know she had done a picture book and secondly, I was attracted to both the unique setting and subject, Latvia and a hedgehog boy.
This is a picture book that is written with full pages of text and opposing page illustrations, with occasional half-pages of text & illustration. Since it is so textual, it may not hold the attention of a toddler and the publisher’s recommended age is 5-8 which seems appropriate to me.
This tale has some common folklore elements such as an elderly couple being gifted a infant in their old age, the child ends up being unusual, here the boy has the skin and hair of a hedgehog. The child is good-mannered, helpful to his parents and well-loved. Then one day he meets a princess, saves her from a small but life-threatening accident and then convinces to marry her. Upon marrying him, her disgust turns to love and he turns into a real man.
Not so common traits are that the Hedgehog boy works to get what he wants, putting the king through a bad situation until he must agree to let him marry the princess thus Hedgehog gets what he wants. The tables are turned around on him when the princess pulls the same trick on him by burning his hedgehog suit, thus getting the man she wants. I’d say the moral of the story was “What goes around, comes around.”
Ms. Plume’s illustrations are realistic and very connected with the Latvian art style both in colour choices and in incorporating borders and designs into her illustrations. Overall, an interesting fairytale which was new to me.