What we can learn from Hans

Last weekend I went to Copenhagen, home of one of the best children’s storytellers of all time – Hans Christian Andersen. Visiting some of the places in which he wrote his stories made me think about what I enjoyed most about them as a child and what ingredients gave them their universal, timeless appeal.

And because (as you may have noticed) I love lists, I thought I would jot these down here, with some example stories:

1. Mixing comedy with moral teaching

Many of Andersen’s stories have a subtle element of humour, as in The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which the title character is punished for his arrogance by being blind to the fact that he’s walking through the streets naked.

2. Creating characters that grab the heart

The Little Mermaid is a classic example – giving up her voice in exchange for legs, only to be jilted by the man she loved. It’s no wonder that Walt Disney decided to create the highly popular film version!

3. Combining sadness with hope

The best example of this is The Little Match Girl, whose freezes from standing outside selling matches in the cold – fortunately her grandmother arrives to rescue her and her soul is taken up to heaven.

4. Implying that things aren’t always as they seem

This is a lesson retold frequently in children’s stories. The Ugly Duckling has become a classic story of personal transformation for the better and has been retold in many languages.

And it only seems fitting that the grave of Hans Christian Andersen is in a beautiful Copenhagen park which families frequently visit, particularly during the summer, to have picnics and tell stories.

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