„The Blue Bird’s Palace“ by Orianne Lallemand

Sometimes life just happens – and your blog is deserted for weeks… But no matter how stressful life is, grabbing a good book always is always like a short vacation. I really enjoy our evening story time. Transferring some if Finja’s books into their temporary home aka “moving boxes” almost hurt, although I know we’ll unpack them again in just a week. 🙂

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To make up for the smaller selection of books available outside of our countless book boxes we read some new ones. Finja now reached the age where she loves fairytales and especially everything about Disney. Because, let’s be honest: Which girl doesn’t? To achieve a balance, I try to incorporate some unusual fairytales from all over the world in our daily reading routine. Sometimes really good tales are hard to come by, especially when you are searching for strong female role models. Luckily, there are some stories with strong female protagonists – Finja was fascinated by the real-life-stories of “Goodnight stories for rebel girls” by Elena Favilly.

But heroines are not always born strong, brave and kind – sometimes they have to grow into their roles. During the last days, I fell in love with the modern version of a Russian fairytale. „The Blue Bird’s Palace“ by Orianne Lallemand was published by one of my favorite publishers, Barefoot Books.

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The magically illustrated volume tells the story of Natasha. Natasha has a wonderful childhood in the Blue Forest, spending her time picking apples, baking bread and making sweet jam with her mom. Life changes when Natasha’s mother dies during an especially cold winter. Natasha’s dad buries himself in work to forget about his wife’s death. To make up for it, he spoils Natasha with everything she wishes for. Only the tastiest food is good enough for her. She enjoys only the finest fabric and the best stories. At age sixteen, the blessed girl is beautiful, but moody. She wants more and more – and especially: A bigger, better house with more rooms. But her father refuses to leave the cottage he shared with his wife. Natasha gets consumed by her own fury. When an old woman with a blue bird offers her a wish in exchange for a tasty fruit in her basket, Natasha desires a palace. But “not just any old palace, though, a magical one. One where I can invent all kinds of different rooms whenever I like.” Natasha’s wish is granted, but it doesn’t turn out as she likes… Natasha will not be able to leave her magical palace. For some time, the girl entertains herself with inventing new rooms. She wanders the wonderful palace and is at easy with the life of a princess.

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But after some time, Natasha gets bored with inventing new rooms. She misses her dad, the orchard the grew up in – and finds back to a simpler life again. “There would be no more dressing-up sessions; no more walks through her splendid rooms; no more magnificent feasts.” The magical palace shrinks to the size of a cottage. When Natasha discovers she’s able to leave the palace as a blue bird at night, she spends her days baking bread, leaving the loaves on the doorsteps of the poorest cottages. Will Natasha’s kindness be repaid? Will she be able to return to her father?

What I loved about “The Blue Bird’s Palace” is Natasha’s development from a selfish, spoiled girl to a thoughtful and kind woman. The story can be a reminder for us parents not to spoil our kids too much – but it can also be a story of growing-up and achieve happiness with being at ease with ourselves. I didn’t expect Finja to follow the modern interpretation of a Russian folk tradition. The tale is longer than most fairytales, there are not fairy godmothers or sparkles involved. But Finja listened carefully, asked questions about Natasha, her moodiness and her development to a kind young woman. Actually, she just snatched the book away while I was reviewing it, quickly retiring into her room to browse through the pages!

Barefoot Books recommends “The Blue Bird’s Palace” for age 5 to 10, but the book offers a complex story and is a wonderful gift for adult readers, too.

There is just one word left for the illustrations by Carole Henaff: Beautiful! The acrylic artwork seems to be inspired by The Arabian Nights and other classics, uniting the classical fairytale illustration with a radiant, more modern approach.

“The Blue Bird’s Palace” is a wonderful tale for children and adults every age – from “twonagers” to teenagers to adults 🙂

“The Blue Bird’s Palace”
written by Orianne Lallemand
illustrated by Carole Henaff
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1846868856

“The Princess & the White Bear King” by Tanya Robyn Batt

Somehow sunny spring days let me yearn for Northern folk tales… “The princess & the white bear king” was sitting on my shelf for quite some time and I never found the peace and quiet to enjoy it. So what better day to finally read a story set in ice and snow than a warm May day?

"The Princess & the White Bear King"

According to the author, “The princess & the white bear king” is a combines three classic tales: “East of the sun, west of the moon”, “The black bull of Norraway” and “The white bear king”. I knew the often retold tale of Eros and Psyche, which is the origin of “East of the sun, west of the moon”, so I knew to expect a classic love story. And as our four-year-old daughter was fascinated by the title cover of the white bear king – why not read it aloud?

“The princess & the white bear king” is set in a winterly fantasy world, brought to life by illustrator Nicoletta Ceccoli, who also illustrated “The tear thief” by Carol Ann Duffy. In “The princess & the white bear king”, the King’s youngest and most beloved daughter dreams of a golden crown, more beautiful than everything her father can give her. Following her dream, the princess has an encounter with a strange white bear, who offers her the desired crown in exchange for her freedom. The girl agrees. Living in the bear’s castle she not only finds his presents acceptable, she even falls in love with the bear king.

The Princess & the White Bear King

But as we know, fairytales never end here… When the homesick girl is allowed to visit her family, she disregards the bear’s suggestion to “not listen to your mother’s advice, for if you do, bad luck befalls us both.” Back in the castle she lights a candle when feeling something sharing her room – and spills hot wax on a handsome prince’s shirt… Doomed to now marry the Troll Queen, who bewitched him, the prince has to travel “to a land east of the sun and west of the moon” without a chance to break the enchantment.

This is when the spoiled and passive princess turns into a heroine. She follows the trail of the bear king for over three years, until finally arriving at the Troll Queen’s castle – and fights for her love…

To be honest, I absolutely disliked the princess in the first part of this new told fairytale. Honestly, which girl goes the way of possible enslavement, just to win a wonderful new crown? Losing her love is a turning point for the spoiled girl though. She turns into a keen and strong willed women, who is not only willing to fight for her love, but also compassionate enough to help those in need during her journey.

The tale itself is kind of long, so more for adult readers or children age 6 and up. Our preschool age daughter seemed to seriously enjoy the story though, although more interested in the emotions of the protagonists and the blacksmith’s children then the meaning of the love story. 🙂

All in all, “The princess & the white bear king” is a wonderful modern fairytale with a not-so-strong beginning, but an even stronger progress. Sure,  it has the classic setting: a heroic male, a wicked antagonist – and we know that in real life no one lives “happily ever after”. But that’s how fairytales end, isn’t it? Our heroine is more than a damsel in distress. I absolutely adore Nicoletta Ceccoli’s illustrations, which add great character and atmosphere to the storyline!

The book comes with a story CD narrated by Miranda Richardson.

More information:
The princess & the white bear king
Written By: Tanya Robyn Batt
Illustrated By: Nicoletta Ceccoli
Publisher: Barefoot Books
ISBN-10: 1846862280
ISBN-13: 978-1846862281