What you DON’T know about author Hans Christian Andersen

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International Children’s Book Day is celebrated every April 2nd, inspiring children to pick up a book and get reading!

International Book Day

April the 2nd was chosen to mark this day for young literature lovers as it’s the same date as Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, the author of many famous children’s stories like The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling.

Did you know that Hans Christian Andersen was a paper-cutter as well as a marvelous fairy tale writer? Love him.

The Hans Christian Andersen award is announced on April 4th. That’s a HUGE children’s book award. They’ll announce it at the Bologna Children’s Book Festival and I was absolutely thrilled to see one of my favorite authors, Lois Lowry, on the short list for nominees! You may know Lois as the author of The Giver. You can read a book review that I did on Gathering Blue here.

Lois Lowry

Organized by the International Board on Books For Young People, or IBBY, the aim is to promote books and reading to young people.  IBBY was founded in Zurich, Switzerland in 1953 and today there are 70 National Sections from all parts of the world.

During International Children’s Book Day there will be a number of events held around the world, including writing competitions and talks from famous authors and illustrators.

Hans Christian Andersen’s stories have been made into so many movies, musicals, operetta etc. Though we have his great stories, can you imagine that, as he would tell them, he would be cutting paper? And at the end of his story he would have a paper cutting that reflected the story he was telling (keep reading and you’ll see what I mean).

He was magical AND a bit odd; but aren’t we all? 🙂

Here’s a few more details about his life and craft:

Hans Christian Andersen

 The Storyteller Series: Many of our favorite authors not only bring to life stories which hold our attention, they were and are actual people who hold a variety of talent passions and interests. These have become part of the woven cloth of the storytellers themselves. This series sheds a light on the writers and their passions giving us a glimpse and experience into their daily lives.                          

Once, not so very long ago, a man of middle age could be seen walking down the streets of Copenhagen Denmark with a bag strewn over his shoulder. Where was he going? Well to visit the King of course. He had been invited like many times before, to entertain and delight the King and his guests with his wonderful stories of words and paper.

Who could this man be?

It could be none other than Hans Christian Andersen, creator of fairy tales extraordinaire.

Hans Christian Andersen

In fact, Hans Christian Andersen’s own life was very much like the fairy tales he told in many ways.

Just like some of the characters from his fairy tales, the storyteller was born to very poor parents in Odense, Denmark. His father worked as a shoemaker and his mother a washerwoman. His father would entertain him with old Danish legends before his untimely death when Hans was 11.

The people of his small town didn’t know what to make of this tall, awkward boy. He would recite long passages from plays, do clumsy dances and sing ridiculous songs all to make the townsfolk laugh.

Hans Christian Andersen birth house Odense, Denmark
Hans Christian Andersen birth house Odense, Denmark

His mother wanted him to become a tailor but Hans would have none of it. “I’m going to be famous,” he would say.

Though he was famous to the people of his small town, to become really famous he would need to leave Odense and go to Copenhagen. And that’s precisely what he did.

At the age of 14 he moved to the capital city of Copenhagen hoping beyond all reason to be an actor in the Royal Theater. Many wealthy people tried to help him succeed but to no avail. His dancing master gave up, as well as his singing coach. Directors of the royal Theater did their best to support his script writing efforts but nothing worked. Finally it was decided that he should go to school.

Hans Christian Andersen’s apartment bldg on the right
Hans Christian Andersen’s apartment bldg on the right

He was much older than the other students and he was made fun of by his school teacher. He was so depressed that when the people paying for his education found out, they brought him back to Copenhagen to study with a private tutor.

After his schooling, Andersen spent many years traveling and writing poems, books, and plays. It was not until he was thirty that he wrote any fairy tales. His first small book of tales became an instant success and from then on his fame grew as well, all over Europe and eventually the world.

Hans Christen Anderson put many pieces of his own life into his fairy tales. His own mother was forced to go begging as a small girl. This led him to write “The Little Match Girl,” a story spinning compassion for the unfortunate ones of our world.

Little Match Girl
Little Match Girl

His very own personal experiences were shared in his tale of “The Ugly Duckling”, which points out that the qualities that make one feel different and lonely are also the very same qualities that make us shine when used properly.

Do you know what Hans Christian Andersen liked as much as his fairy tales?

Paper!  He was an addict to paper. He wrote on it, he drew on it and he use to cut in it. Just like a sculptor carves the figure out of stone, Hans Christian Andersen use to cut his stories out of paper. In fact he was a very popular paper-cutter. (images courtesy of the Odense Museum)

Hans Christian Andersen

In order to amuse his friends and their children, Hans made his very famous paper cuts. Wherever he would go he would carry his bag filled with paper and these very large monstrous scissors which he used to cut out the most elegant figures.

There isn’t a direct connection between his paper cuts and his fairy tales but he use to accompany his paper cutting with a fantastic tale, and end the tale by unfolding the paper to amazed listeners.

Not only were the paper cuts beautiful but they held the secret to the story meant to challenge the mind. Often there was a hidden meaning in the paper cuttings, just as there was a secret meaning held in his fairy tales. On the outside it was amusing and impressive and deep inside the meaning could amaze.

Hans Christian Andersen went on to become a most beloved and cherished national and world treasure. After traveling in Europe over several years, he returned back to Copenhagen to be heralded as a national hero. The people of Copenhagen crowded the square to get a glimpse of the famous storyteller from the balcony. To welcome him home every house in Copenhagen lit candles in the windows to celebrate the legacy of their beloved story-teller.

Hans Christian Andersen

It is tradition to read Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales by candlelight, thereby giving them the name Candlelight Stories.

Some Fun Facts:

  • Hans Christian Andersen was born in April 2, 1805 in Odense, Denmark.
  • He is the author of The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea, the snow Queen, The Fir Tree, the Little Match Girl, The Emperor’s New Clothes and Thumbelina. You can find a very special treasury of his books here.
  • tresury
  • He wrote around 169 fairy tales in all.
  • He died August 4th 1875 in Copenhagen, Denmark

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One more thing…..

Would you like to create a very special item that is inspired by the paper cuttings of Hans Christian Andersen?

I’ve made a FREE off the shoulder felt story bag craft and tutorial just for this occasion! This simple craft is something the whole family can participate in creating it will make a delightful gift for the book lover in your life.  I hope your little bag of tales holds as many wonders for you as ours has.

Click the image below and get instant access to this Hans Christian Andersen-inspired shoulder bag!