The Girl of the Wish Garden:
An International Collaboration

h1 February 20th, 2013 by jules

“…The fragile song / folded itself around the bird’s still body. /
Uneasily, Lina waited and watched. / Was that a breath? She dared not look. …”

Here’s a glimpse at some beautiful illustrations I simply must share.

Uma Krishnaswami’s The Girl of the Wish Garden: A Thumbelina Story, illustrated by Nasrin Khosravi, will be released next month by Groundwood Books, but I was lucky enough to see an early copy. This book is being published after Nasrin’s death and in her memory, but more on that below.

The lyrical, poetic writing here is striking, and the artwork is simply gorgeous. This is not a book that presents the seamless merging of art and text, as with a traditional picture book. More like an illustrated story or poem, it presents the text on the left of each spread, and one ethereal, Chagall-esque illustration on the right. For each and every spread.

I just read the Kirkus (starred) review and love how they worded it: “This piece shares Hans Christian Andersen’s plot but not its old themes of marriage and Thumbelina’s prettiness, powerlessness and self-sacrifice. Instead, with lyrical elegance, Krishnaswami gives Lina agency.”

YES. THAT. Thumbelina has always been one of my least favorite fairy tales, what with that poor creature getting carried away hither and thither against her will and then the almost-marriage to the mole and so on. (That almost-marriage deep, deep down in the darkness … SHUDDER.)

But, as the aforementioned review puts it so well, Lina here is decidedly not passive. Her mother finds her in a “garden of wishes, where the birds sang wild / and the winds blew free,” singing to her that she’s a “child of wildness, child of freedom.” Yes, she’s no bigger than a thumb, and yes, a giant frog snatches her up, but her tears run dry, and “an old wild tune” creeps into her mind. She calls forth fish to assist her, and she’s free.

“…’Child of wonders, child of freedom,’ / her mother sang to Lina. /
‘Blessed may you be, / and lucky am I to have found you.’ /
But even while she sang her fondest hopes / for her tiny daughter, /
she worried, for many dangers wait upon a girl / no bigger than a thumb.”

(Click to enlarge and read full text)

To be sure, she finds herself in more scrapes, but she has gumption. I won’t give the whole re-telling away, but it all closes with an act of kindness, the brightly-shining sun, “the map of [Lina’s] own life / spread out like a carpet.” And much more.

In a closing Author’s Note, Krishnaswami, who grew up in India, writes:

Much as I revered them…I never felt I could lay cultural claim to Andersen’s tales. Then I learned about an unexpected migration of this story. In 1999, a Farsi picture-book version had been published in Iran, featuring the luminous artwork of Nasrin Khosravi. Her pictures with their delicate lines, glowing palette and mirage-like details, focus on some elements of the story, mute or shift others and completely ignore a few. They spoke to me as Andersen’s voice had done.

“…Then she heard music curling likes vines in sunlight,
until it seemed that birds from her dreams
feathered her heart,
so she went in. …”

(Click to enlarge and read full text)

The author goes on to say that, sadly, Nasrin died before she became familiar with her work, but “creating text for it has been an honor and privilege.” Krishnaswami, she explains, used Nasrin’s art as her guide for re-constructing the tale (the illustrations were first published in Dokhtare Baghe Arezoo in Iran in ’99), while simultaneously retaining certain elements of what she calls “Andersen’s immortal wonder tales.”

And the result is an altogether unique and unforgettable creation.

Nasrin was born in Iran, taught illustration, and illustrated more than thirty-five books for children. For the paintings that appear in this book, she was selected as best illustrator at the Tehran International Biennial of Illustrations. She was also nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award and the UNICEF Ezra Jack Keats International Award for Excellence in Children’s Book Illustration. She passed away at the age of 60 in April 2010.

“…’Mother!’ cried Lina, and tried to run to her. / But the reflection flickered /
like memory, and she ran instead / into the map of her own life /
spread out like a carpet— / all of it, birdsong and lonely fear,
wind-chime and mouse-fret /
and illuminations of what was yet to come.”

(Click to enlarge and read full text)

* * * * * * *

THE GIRL OF THE WISH GARDEN: A THUMBELINA STORY. Text copyright © 2013 by Uma Krishnaswami. Illustrations copyright © 1999 by Nasrin Khosravi. Published by Groundwood Books, Canada. Images reproduced by permission of the publisher.

10 comments to “The Girl of the Wish Garden:
An International Collaboration”

  1. Magical, ethereal, breathtakingly beautiful . . .

  2. So beautiful. Soaring colors and compositions. WOW.

  3. That looks and sounds lovely.

  4. WOW! just amazing illustrations and love the rich sounding poetry…beautiful!!

  5. exquisite!! LOVE – thanks for posting

  6. Now Nasrin Khosravi becomes one of my favourite artists!

  7. She will be always in children’s hearts…

  8. Ava, it’s so touching to see your comment here. I want to say what an honor it was for me to work with your mother’s beautiful artwork. This project has been a moving, almost transcendent experience for me at very many levels. Whatever part I’ve been able to play in bringing Nasrin’s art to the attention of children in North America, I’ve grown from it as well.

  9. […] Uma Krishnaswami takes on Thumbelina. […]

  10. I am an Iranian illustrator ,Nasrin is my hero in illustration for children books,thanks for this post,I hope God bless her and she will be alive for ever

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