CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 39. . . .June 10, 2016
Thumbelina Thinks Big! is author Katie Dale and illustrator Rupert Van Wyk’s adaptation of the Thumbelina story as part of the “Tadpoles: Fairytale Twists” series. In the original Hans Christian Andersen version, tiny Thumbelina is pursued by various creatures who want to marry her, and eventually Thumbelina falls in love with a tiny fairy prince. However, in this updated version, Thumbelina takes charge and creates her own happy ending without a prince. She pursues her interest of fashion design and finds a niche that fits her particular skills and size.
Structurally, the plotline is fairly conventional: the protagonist has a dream, experiences a minor setback, gets encouragement, and ultimately triumphs in achieving her dream. This story structure provides useful modelling for young readers in how to handle setbacks, and the little twist at the ending reassures them that things will end well even if it is not in the way they expected in the beginning. The moral of this new tale is clear: anything is achievable through hard work and persistence. Although this may seem overly simplistic, the messaging is appropriate for the developmental stage of the 6-8 year old readers. These young readers are still learning how to deal with uncertainty and novel situations. Thumbelina Thinks Big! demonstrates how a character uses her small size to her advantage in an unexpected way:
Chance encounters and other characters contribute to Thumbelina’s happy ending, but it is her gumption that is the focus of the story.
Thumbelina, while tiny in proportion to the other characters, always grabs the reader’s eye since she is often depicted in an action pose and wearing glitzy outfits. Like the Thumbelina described in the text, the Thumbelina in the pictures is a proactive go-getter. Van Wyk’s illustrations evoke Quentin Blake’s style with its simple, sketchy outlines and watercolour-like application of colour. Young readers fascinated with technology will not miss the modern details: the illustrations show characters snapping photos on iPhones and digital cameras. In matching closely with the plot, the illustrations help to facilitate young readers’ comprehension and understanding of the story.
The book’s vocabulary offers challenging words like “couple,” “neighbourhood,” and “fantastic” that less advanced readers may need help in sounding out, but the book is a good solo read for a stronger reader. Thumbelina Thinks Big! is a good buddy reading time with its short text to page ratio, roughly 2-3 sentences per page, and ample illustrations. The two puzzle pages at the end of the book encourage further interaction with the story. Readers are prompted to explore both storytelling through pictures and character dialogue. For adults concerned about conforming to gender norms in telling a story about a young girl who loves clothes and fashion, this further exploration presents an opportunity to talk about this particular twist on the story and imagine what other twists could be possible that make use of Thumbelina’s small size as an advantage. As in the title, tiny Thumbelina thinks big and makes her own dreams come true.
Dale and Van Wyk’s Thumbelina Thinks Big! is a creative and inspiring re-telling of a classic tale for modern young readers.
Sabrina Wong is the Student Engagement Librarian at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary, AB.
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