The Steadfast Tin Soldier (Rylant/Corace)

The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen, retold by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Jen Corace.NY: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013.

I love Hans Christian Andersen.  He has been a favorite of mine since I was very young.  I grew up with the original sad version of "The Little Mermaid," I love "The Little Match Girl" and "Thumbelina," the cleverness of "The Emperor's New Clothes," and his original version of "The Snow Queen" is amazing. "The Wild Swans" is my all-time favorite fairy tale, and I prefer his version over the Grimm version ("The Six Swans").

Then I discovered that many fairy tale lovers dislike Andersen.  They find him moralizing and sadistic. The poor mermaid sacrifices so much, just to become a spirit of the air.  The poor little match girl freezes to death.  And what about "The Steadfast Tin Soldier"?  The soldier goes through so much, only to melt in the fire.  And while it seems the little paper ballerina was faithful, when she is swept into the fire after him, she becomes nothing but ash.  To quote the Jean Hersholt translation (see link above):
"Then the door blew open. A puff of wind struck the dancer. She flew like a sylph, straight into the fire with the soldier, blazed up in a flash, and was gone. The tin soldier melted, all in a lump. The next day, when a servant took up the ashes she found him in the shape of a little tin heart. But of the pretty dancer nothing was left except her spangle, and it was burned as black as a coal."

What does that mean?  Is there some sort of commentary being made?  It seems rather harsh.  

A lot of parents shy away from the original Andersen, although I'm not one of them.  Disney, of course, has done much to make "The Little Mermaid" a much happier romp, and if you've ever seen Fantasia 2000, you know that they've revised the tin soldier and dancer's fates, as well.

But that kills the melancholy flavor of the story.  Is there a middle-ground?  A way to re-tell the story to make the ending more palatable, but without a trite "happily ever after?"

Cynthia Rylant (such a wonderful writer!) and Jen Corace (one of my favorites) have collaborated on fairy tales before.  Their Hansel and Gretel is beautiful.  I was jumping for joy when I found out they had collaborated on a re-telling of The Steadfast Tin Soldier.  Rylant's text is as poetic as ever, and Jen Corace's illustrations are stunning.  And for parents who worry about the ending, this one does find a middle ground.  Instead of the separate demises of the soldier and dancer (who is never said to be made of paper), the soldier is flung out of the fire, landing on the dancer. The lovers become fused together forevermore. 

I want to live in the nursery in this book.

(Look!  They even play with matryoshka dolls in this nursery.  Of course I love it.)

I think my favorite image in the story is always the little tin soldier in his paper boat.  Corace captured
it beautifully.

So yeah, I want to add this one to our permanent collection.  The illustrations alone make it worth owning.  I can't begin to capture their appeal.  (For more Jen Corace in picture book form, I must recommend all of her collaborations with Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Sweet Dreams by Rose A. Lewis, and The Humblebee Hunter by Deborah Hopkinson.)


  1. Oh yes yes yes. I've been so eager to see this one, I love the pix you included! You know, I often prefer Grimm to Anderson, for some reason, it might be the too many sad endings aspect you touched on. But I've always liked the Steadfast Tin Soldier. I'm a HUGE Corace fan. I think her work here evokes a Lois Lenski vibe, don't you think? Love it! And I want to be in that nursery too.

    1. I hadn't thought of Lenski, but yeah, I can see that. They have a lovely, folksy quality. It's quite gorgeous. Made me very happy. :o)

  2. OH Goodness Danzel! This book is on the docket over at PP&PB tomorrow! Oh man... it is beautiful isn't it? Well, I guess people can't look at a lovely book often enough, right?!? :)

    1. Oh no! I'm sorry. But I'm sure you guys have more readers than me! And everyone in the English-speaking world needs to know about it, right??? Spread the love!!! xxxxxoooo

    2. Oh no! Don't be sorry!!! That's not what I meant at all! Also I should email you some info... You'll like it- I'll try to get to that later tonight :)

    3. Thanks for the email! And I'm looking forward to the post tomorrow!

  3. What a beautiful book! Love those illustrations!


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