The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. Retold and Illus. by Rachel Isadora, 2009.
Isadora stays true to the plots of these familiar German and Danish fairy tales, but smoothly moves the settings to the forests, farms, and palaces of Africa. Accordingly, the human characters are people of color, often dressed in handsome regional clothing. In this version of The Princess and the Pea, the prince searches for his bride all over Africa and the reader learns to say hello in Amharic (Ethiopia), Somali and Swahili (Kenya). Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in a wood full of giraffes, snakes, zebras, etc. The awkward gray duckling grows up to be a beautiful black swan, but first he is rejected by other animals of the farmyard, including a baboon, a warthog and a meerkat.
The books are vividly illustrated with collages of oil paints, printed paper and palette paper. The resulting pictures have much pleasing texture and many colorful shades. The princess’ twenty mattresses come in as many patterns, from animal skins, to stripes to florals. The green skinned witch in the candy house is dressed in a raggedy cloak that gives her the appearance of a frightening wild creature. Hansel’s cage is hung with spiders, and alive with crawling and hopping reptiles. And a sun in fiery tones peers through a flowering tree to shine down on six yellow ducklings, their mother and one newly hatched misfit. These glorious illustrations are everything you hope for in a fairy tale.