Sylvia Long's Thumbelina

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
Sylvia Long's Thumbelina Book Poster Image
Exquisite watercolors bring magic to this classic story.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

With its close-to-the-classical text and beautifully imaginative watercolors, this would be a wonderful introduction to classic fairy tales, especially those by Hans Christian Andersen. 

Positive Messages

The story teaches several lessons about the importance of kindness, loyalty, and tenacity.  The mother is given Thumbelina because she was kind and good. The unpleasant toad loses Thumbelina to the kind, helpful fish, butterflies, and birds that save her.  The rat takes her in and gives her a home, she saves the swallow, and the swallow helps her escape to the fairy world. Thumbelina doesn't feel sorry for herself, and doesn't give in to the arranged marriage to the mole just because he would give her a secure, wealthy home. In the end, rather than living with large people, toads, moles, or other animals, she finds happiness with other fairy people who are pretty much her own kind. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Thumbelina doesn't give up when things get tough, appreciates the other characters for the help they offer, and stays true to herself. Other characters are also kind and helpful, which helps Thumbelina survive in a world that otherwise would be pretty harsh and scary.

Violence & Scariness

Nothing violent is shown, but a large toad kidnaps Thumbelina and carries her away to the middle of a stream "where she cannot escape." Also, a seemingly dead swallow  is stuck in the mole's tunnel, where Thumbelina is forced to live for a time.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this retelling of the classic Thumbelina story stays fairly close to the original version.  It may be a bit scary for younger readers when Thumbelina is kidnapped or a bird appears injured or dead, but all ends well. Older readers will be captivated by both the story and the illustrations.

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What's the story?

After her kindly mother wishes for a child, Thumbelina springs from a flower. Then her adventures begin. After being carried off by an unpleasant toad who hopes to marry her to her son, she is saved by fish, beetles, and birds, then turned away by beetles for being too ugly and repulsive. After trying to survive alone in the wilderness, she is taken in by a field mouse, nearly married to a mole, brings a swallow back to life, and finally escapes into a garden world filled with little fairy people and a prince that can only spell happily ever after.

Is it any good?

Thumbelina may not be quite the assertive female character we would hope she would be, but she does hold her own. Though she is captured several times, and almost forced to marry first a toad then a mole, she manages to escape those fates and find a world where she fits in...and she marries the prince.  All of this happens because she is kind and good, and sensible. She is strong enough to survive for a while in the woods, and has feelings of loyalty for those who help her.  

The story is a good one, and told as Hans Christian Andersen meant it to be told. In fact, Sylvia Long's version follows the classical text fairly closely, and is
among the most beautifully illustrated. Her gorgeous
watercolors will absolutely take your breath away.  The many available musical, film, and written versions of Thumbelina span the gamut, from the classical tale with its Arthur Rackman illustrations to Disney and Barbie versions with bright, cartoonish illustrations and simplified storytelling. Versions readers, and art lovers, might also appreciate are those by Susan Jeffers, Brian Pinkney, and Brad Sneed. 

The artwork in this version of Thumbelina is among the best ever.  Pages overflow with flowers, butterflies, birds, and a magic that is both sensual and realistic. Dragonflies, goldfish, and the tiny den of the field mouse are particularly amazing.  And the final 3-panelled layout showing small people cupped in a garden of flowers is exquisite! Even without the words of Hans Christian Andersen, Sylvia Long's breath-taking watercolors create a stunning fairy world
sure to evoke the imaginations of readers of all ages.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about it would be like to be only the size of your mother's thumb? How would that change your life? Would you like to fly on the backs of beetles and birds? Or live in the den of a field mouse?

  • How did the beetles feel about Thumbelina? Why did they care that she had no antennae and only two legs? Why did they say she was "repulsive"? What does that mean? Why did they want to have nothing more to do with her? How did that make Thumbelina feel about herself?

  • What did you think of the homes the toad, field mouse, and mole fixed up for Thumbelina? Are there things you liked about them? Things you did not? Why was she happiest when she finally found the fairy people in the flowers? Where would you have wanted to stay?

  • Why do you think the artist made some pages open horizontally while most others opened normally? What about the final pages that opened up to show three panels?

  • How does is this story of Thumbelina the same, or different, from other versions you have read, or seen on film? Which parts do you like better? Why? Does the character of Thumbelina change? What makes you think so?

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