Wild Swans

Wild Swans is Xanthe Gresham Knight’s retelling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale, in which the King’s eleven sons are transformed into swans by their step-mother, and his one daughter must save them by knitting shirts for them out of nettles that cruelly sting her hands. This version crucially changes the figure of the evil step-mother who hated all the children into a kind, intelligent healer step-mother, who is searching for a cure to the plague that is sweeping the nation. She changes the princes into swans so that they may travel and see the ways of the world, as she believes they have been too sheltered and spoilt to be effective rulers to a kingdom ravaged by sickness. She finds a cure for the plague, but it is too late to save herself and she dies before reversing the spell, so the princess must save her brothers. This retelling is beautifully written, capturing the fairy tale feel of the original, but updated for a more modern audience.

The story is accompanied by many full-page illustrations to illuminate the text. The style of illustration along with the wonderful use of gold foiling on the sumptuous images create the feel of an antique Chinese screen print. Some of these gilt pictures by Gastaut are dramatically rendered in only black, white and gold, others are full of rich colours, and their addition makes this volume one to be treasured.

For confident readers aged 8-10.