"Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale"
–Hans Christian Andersen
The Emperor's New Clothes was written by a Danish author named Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875). Andersen is best known for his children's stories, which are commonly called "fairy tales." Some of his most famous fairy tales include The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Ugly Duckling.
Hans Christian Andersen began writing at an early age, but his first ambition was to become an actor, a dancer or singer. He memorized poems and scenes from plays and poems, and would perform them for anyone who wanted to listen. When Andersen was 14 years old, he traveled to Copenhagen to join the Royal Theater. He was turned down many times but refused to give up, and he performed at distinguished dinner parties and studied dance at the Royal Theater's Ballet School. At 17, however, Andersen's voice began to change and his gawky physique became unsuited for ballet. Critics told Andersen that he had no future as a performer, and he was eventually dismissed from the school.
Despite rejection, Hans Christian Andersen never lost faith in his talent. He enrolled in grammar school, where he continued to develop his writing skills. At 29, he published his first collection of fairy tales, including The Tinder Box, The Princess and the Pea, Little Claus and Big Claus, and Little Ida's Flowers.
His stories became popular all over Europe, and he was praised for his revolutionary approach to children's literature. Before Andersen came along, fairy tales were not nearly as exciting or enchanting as they are now—many of them were very difficult for children to relate to. But Andersen created a familiar, friendly voice that spoke to children personally. He wrote about kings and queens, but he also wrote about the young, the poor and the elderly, who were viewed as powerless during Andersen's time. No matter who they were, Andersen gave his characters a voice to express their feelings.
Andersen's fairy tales became famous all over the world, and to this day his stories are loved and retold in many different languages. Like many of his characters, Andersen's own life resembles that of a fairy tale: although he was urged to give up, Andersen never lost sight of his dreams. Even in real life, Andersen teaches us that when we believe in ourselves anything is possible.
Some people call Hans Christian Andersen the "father" of modern fairy tales, because some of today's most popular fairy tales are adapted from stories that Andersen wrote. Andersen wrote his stories in Danish, his native language. Before they could be published all over the world, they needed to be translated into other languages and, because some of the people translating the stories did not understand Danish as well as Andersen did, the translated versions are often different from what Andersen originally wrote. Andersen's stories have been retold for many, many years. To this day, they continue to inspire other writers, artists, and dramatists all over the world. But no matter where you are from or what language you speak, all of Andersen's stories have one thing in common: they teach us important lessons about life.
April is National Poetry Month! Before he wrote fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen loved to write and perform poetry.
Teachers: Ask your students to bring in their favorite poem, or find a poem that is meaningful to them. Give each student a chance to read their poem aloud to the class, and explain why it is important.
Parents: Visit your local library and choose a book of poems to read together before bedtime.
You can find children's poetry online! Here are some links to share with your students and children:
- In honor of Hans Christian Andersen's birthday, April 2 is known as "International Children's Book Day."
- The most prestigious award for children's books is called the Hans Christian Andersen Medal.
- Charles Dickens was Andersen's close friend and mutual influence. Andersen even dedicated his book Poet's Day Dream to Dickens in 1853.
Can you name a famous holiday tale written by Charles Dickens?
(Answer: A Christmas Carol)
contributed by Meredith Coburn, Education Department Intern