The Wild Swans is a retelling of the Anderson story in which a girl loses her brothers as they are turned into swans by her step mother. It seems to be a simple story. She has a task, to turn them back again into boys. But the task is complicated. She must pick nettles with her bare hands, stamp on them to make yarn and spin and knit the yarn into shirts to cover them. Eleven shirts for swan princes. And all the while she knits she cannot speak, for if she does, even so much as a whisper, it will be like a knife in the heart of each swan boy.
And so she knits, silent. And where there is silence people will put words.
The book is about communication, how to listen, about how we hear what we wish to hear.
It is also about love.
And it has in it a character who is a ‘side’ character, but one that fascinates me. She is neither good, nor bad. And she opens up discussions with children about how sometimes good people can do bad things, about how sometimes bad people do good things, about how not to accept labels that other may put on you.
Still learning myself what the book is about as I work on the illustrations. And about to rework the ending.
To order a signed copy of the book take a look at Solva Woollen Mill’s website. They post to anywhere in the world,and you can leave a dedication, but if outside the UK you will need to email the mill for postage costs.
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, Autumn 2015 ( UK and USA).
Review from The Reading Zone:
Eliza lived in a castle beside a forest with her parents, the king and queen, and her eleven brothers. Life is idyllic, full of love, laughter and stories, especially those shared with her mother each bedtime, read aloud from the beautiful volume of tales which is a special gift from her. But the queen is ill, and when she dies everyone is grief stricken. Gradually they come to terms with their loss and the king rides out hunting one bright spring day. Chasing a white hare, he becomes hopelessly lost, encountering an old woman who promises to show him the way home if he will marry her daughter. Whilst the king falls in love with her daughter, he does have some misgivings about the bewitching young woman and hides his family from her, sending them to live deep within a maze in the heart of the forest, visiting them secretly. Thinking that he has a lover, the new queen finds her way there and determines to be rid of this family kept from her. Weaving enchanted shirts, she turns all the boys into swans, birds that must follow their nature and fly south. When Eliza is rejected by her father, through yet more perfidious magic, she determines to find her brothers and free them from the spell. Her deep love and determination sustains her through the making of shirts knitted with thread from nettles, which Eliza has picked and prepared with her bare hands. And all must be done in total silence or the magic will not work…Jackie Morris has woven a truly spellbinding, lyrical tale around the Hans Christian Andersen version of this story, adding depth and nuanced characterisation. From page decorations to spreads full of quiet intensity, the distinctive, glowing illustrations, seemingly imbued with gold, conjure up a beguiling, small jewel of a book. 176 pages / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by Jayne Gould, librarian.