Title: Hortense and the Shadow
Author: Natalia O’Hara
Illustrator: Lauren O’Hara
Genre: Children’s picture book
Description: “Through the dark and wolfish woods,
through the white and silent snow,
lived a small girl called Hortense.
Though kind and brave, she was sad as an owl because of one thing . . .
Hortense hated her shadow.”
A beautifully illustrated dark fairy tale that will remind you of the fables you read as a child. A treasure not to be missed.
My Review: I have found this book so difficult to review which is why I’ve put off writing this review for a while. ‘Hortense and the Shadow’ is a beautiful picture book with such stunning illustrations that really captured me. These images along with the description made me feel excited about reading this book, but somehow it just didn’t live up to my expectations.
Hortense, a young girl, lives in the woods in her home. She’s good, kind and brave as she helps animals who are injured, but Hortense can’t help but hate her shadow and tries to get rid of it. I won’t go into too much detail of the plot as the story is very short, but Hortense has a deep dislike of her shadow as it changes shape and follows her wherever she goes. It’s only when she loses her shadow that she realises how important it was. I have to say that as this story began I was really enjoying it. I read through the NetGalley description that the authors had been inspired by their grandmother’s old folklore stories from eastern Europe and I think this is what really influenced me to want to read this book as the setting does indeed remind me of Eastern European stories I’ve heard from my own family, however the story did not finish the way I had hoped in fact the tale felt very short, far too short.
The illustrations in this book are beautiful! They all look a little folk-like and look like beautiful paintings, though they keep to a cold wintery palette which gives the story a certain feel. There’s a lot of detail in each picture and there are some key things to spot, some people, in the earlier pages which at first make you wonder why they are there but it soon becomes clear when you read the plot. I’ve only seen the digital version of this book so I can’t comment on the quality of the pictures on paper but they look like the ones on the front cover and really are beautiful to look at and they are worth looking back at more than once.
I won’t give away the ending (although I’m going to add a bit more detail/mini spoiler in this paragraph) and although I did like the satisfying end, it all happened too quickly for me. There is a build up of suspense involving bandits, the build up taking the majority of the book’s length with the characters reappearing in the background often, but then the story moves forward suddenly with the bandits and then it’s all over. It felt very rushed and it was disappointing as I wanted there to be more and a greater emphasis of Hortense’s time without her shadow.
Despite the rushed plot that spoiled the ending for me, I still give this three stars as I just can’t help but love the illustrations and the Eastern European folk setting of this book. Although the story could have said more, it’s a good story for kids to read, or to read to kids, who might feel afraid of their own shadows or of darkness and shadows in general.
-Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy.
Have you read this book, if so did you enjoy it? What do you think of the traditional setting or stories about shadows? Let me know any thoughts I love hearing from you 🙂
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