Sunday, March 3, 2013

Vintage "Thumbelina" from USSR

I buy a lot of vintage children's books with good illustrations. Many of those are unlikely to ever be reprinted, so I grab them whenever I can. My daughter loves reading, and buying books for her is a pleasure (it is quite possible that part of the reason for her loving to read is that I love reading to her and enjoy looking for nice books).

I bought this vintage "Thumbelina" (printed in USSR in 1977, so it is as old as I am) on Sunday; it is illustrated by Natalia Barbotchenko, and I think I love her interpretation most of all. I especially love the cover - it so peaceful and cozy. This is the first tine I have seen this book.

I think that almost any little girl  would like to imagine herself sleeping in such a bed, or, better still - having a tiny girl friend who could be cared for, like a doll.

The house of the witch is quite cozy, too; even though it is dark, it is not scary. She looks neat and well-dressed, very eco style - her dress might be made from undyed linen, and shawl... alpaca? What do you say? Her posture expresses care and compassion. And the woman looks so desperately hopeful and unprotected. By the way, have you ever thought of the injustice done to her in the end? Her child was stolen and never returned to her, and obviously did not even remembered her - there was no single mention of the mother after Thumbelina was stolen. This always stroke me as unfair.

These creatures are not frightening, too. They are so homely and business-like. Note the beautiful lamp! And can you imagine what this place smells like? It is clean and earthy, with hints of dried fruits and herbs. A perfect hole, sound and well-built, full of properly stored food, and any decent mole lady would love to inhabit it.

The glamorous part of it always seemed boring to me - there is too much sunlight, and it lacks the comfort of living in the shadow of grass and flowers. What are they going to do now - just dance and play? If they were to play in the strawberry patch, where the soil is moist, where there is shade and mystery under the large festooned leaves, with ripe red berries hanging low, with small white flowers, with strawberry runners spreading like tentacles - it would be fascinating! You can meet a worm or a beetle there, or even a slug (I was afraid of them as a child, or rather disgusted), and you might have to fight for your life - that is so much more interesting than just jumping from one flower to another.

But the book is written as it is and cannot be changed. Anyway, I am grateful to Andersen for the moments of magic, for green shade under leaves, for mirror-like water of the pond with gold fish sealed inside, and the smell of grain and honey, flour and herbs, in the mole's hole. And when Thumbelina went outside to say farewell to the outside world, it would smell like autumn - wet soil, wet stumble in the field, cold air and smoke somewhere far away... and a single sparrow, the last one, coming from the darkening sky with sparse stars, to take her away from this sad land. What was later - is not real to me.


  1. I love Andersen's stories! Great illustrations in this book!

  2. So nice illustrations! Love this fairytale! I also love the Soviet cartoon!

    1. Thank you, Irina! And I do not remember the Soviet cartoon...

  3. WOW. I had this book when i was a kid :)

  4. Such a beautifully illustrated book! I don't think I've seen this version before...


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