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December 18, 2012

Melody Carlson on Her Love for Hans Christian Andersen

Posted by tom

Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over 200 books, including her latest holiday novel, THE CHRISTMAS PONY. Here, Melody looks back on the fateful Christmas when she received a collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales from her mother. Her love for classics like “The Brave Tin Soldier” and “The Little Mermaid” continued to blossom throughout her life. Fittingly, she plans to pass on her favorite Hans Christian Andersen tales to her eight-year-old granddaughter this Christmas.

For as long as I can remember, I adored books and libraries. But as a young child of divorced parents and living in several less than ideal situations, I don’t recall having many, if any, books of my very own until I was eight years old (and reading at fifth grade level). My single mom had returned to the university to get her teaching degree, and I believe she was taking a children’s lit class, which probably inspired her to give me a book for Christmas. I was delighted to discover a thick hardback book under the tree --- and that is when I fell in love with Hans Christian Andersen.

I already liked fairy tales --- whether in picture books, Disney movies, or Shirley Temple Theatre --- but reading Andersen’s “Brave Tin Soldier” or “Little Match Girl” or “Wild Swans” touched me on a much deeper level. I remember being hunkered down with my book, in the bottom bunk in our tiny bedroom, hiding my tears from my older sister who wasnot a reader and would not understand. Because whenever a fairy tale character suffered, or died, or even triumphed, it got to me. Andersen in my eight-year-old opinion was truly the most magical storyteller.

But like all little girls, I quickly outgrew fairy tales...or so I thought. However, a decade or so later, while working with children, I would pull a fairy tale from my memory, dust it off, and tell it to my young listeners. I usually did this to calm a situation or to get their attention or even as a reward. Of course, to keep it even more interesting and because I probably couldn’t remember the tales exactly, I would put my own spin on the stories. But the children loved it ---and so did I.

My love for Hans Christian Andersen even compelled me to add Denmark to my travel itinerary when I was in Europe many years ago. Despite that it took an extra day to get to Copenhagen, I made the effort because I wanted to see my hero’s homeland. I also wanted to see the sculpture of the “Little Mermaid” --- one of my favorite Andersen stories. Unfortunately, vandals had cut off her pretty little head, and, as a result, I refused to go to the site. Maybe I will someday.

The fairy tales came out again when I had children of my own. Sometimes I would read them aloud, and sometimes, like if we were on a car trip (long before mobile DVD players), I would tell the boys my own versions. But it wasn’t long before my boys moved from fairy tales to fantasy and sci-fi. And I eventually moved on to writing “real” books. I think I’d discovered that the “storyteller” hiding inside of me was not all that different than Hans Christian Andersen --- and my storyteller wanted out.

Time passed and we relocated a few times, and I suspect that my old fairy tale book is packed away with a bunch of other dusty books in the attic. But the love of fairy tales returned when my granddaughter came along. She was a preschooler when I made the delightful discovery that she adores fairy tales just as much as I do. In fact, we’ve watched all the Shirley Temple fairy tales, and we take turns making up our own fairy tales before bedtime. But for Christmas this year --- because Anika is eight years old and reading at a fifth grade level --- I think I will dig around in the attic until I locate my old Hans Christian Andersen book, and I believe I will pass it on to her. Long live fairy tales!