My favorite tale by Hans Christian Anderson has always been The Little Match Girl. The poignancy, the helplessness...it moved me deeply as a child, and still does. Naturally, then, it was a story I wanted in my own library, to share with my daughters, but with so many versions, which to choose? It was blind serendipitous luck that the version I ordered, because the cover drew me in, was adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. I love it. And that seems like a feeble way to describe my emotional reaction to it.
It is an incredibly moving version, both the text and pictures. Set in a large turn-of-the-century American city, where horse-drawn carriages are sharing the road with automobiles, Pinkney's version highlights the poverty prevalent in such big cities. His match girl has a more homogeneous, easily overlooked face. But don't let that fool you into thinking this is a bland version. The pictures, to me, reflect the rough life of the poor. From the very first picture of the story that shows the fear and destitution and hopelessness on the children's faces as they work in the cold attic to make small bouquets of flowers to sell, to the hungry longing on the little girl's red-cheeked face as she stares at the food on a cart on another page, to her little hand cupped around the lit match as she sits on the snow covered sidewalk in her torn stockinged feet.... It a good thing you can't see me now; the emotion that his drawings evoke in me in really quite embarrassing.
And yes, my children love it, too.
Thank you, Jerry Pinkney, for making this hauntingly beautiful book.