Friday, 24 November 2017

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O'Hara

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O'Hara - Review for Primary Teachers

Hortense and the Shadow is a debut picture book from sisters Natalia and Lauren O'Hara. It is a haunting, folk-tale like story. The protagonist, Hortense, is 'kind and brave' but she is sad. She hates her shadow. It follows her everywhere she goes, does everything she does and it grows 'tall and dark/and crooked' when night falls. She believes her shadow hates her too. However, one cold night, when bandits surprise her in the woods, it's her shadow that saves her. Hortense then realises that rather than being a nuisance, her shadow is vital part of her and so, in the style of all good fairy tales, all ends happily ever after.

The story's themes ( self-esteem, self-identity and finding inner strength) are developed subtly. 
Although the story is not written in rhyming text, it certainly has a poetic feel about it. The book is marketed for children aged 5-7 years. However, the language and style of the story has a lot a potential for use in the KS 2 classroom.  The descriptions of the setting have a fairy tale quality about them 'Through the dark/and wolfish woods,/through the white and silent snow.' These could be explored not only in terms of the noun phrases and alliteration  but also the rhythm which gives them that timeless quality. Investigations which collect examples from other fairy tales (old and modern) would help develop and awareness of these features which children could then be encouraged to use in their own fairy tale composition. 

The story was inspired by stories told to the sisters by their Polish Grandmother and this is evident in the watercolour illustrations, which are reminiscent of Polish fairy tales. The buildings have the feel of Eastern Europe with onion domes, turrets and ornate furniture. There is also a slight Gothic feel with all the garden tracery and architectural embellishment. 

Hortense feels as though 'someone is watching her' and careful examination of the illustrations show that she indeed being watched, as the bandits are hidden within the wintry blue and grey illustrations. Sometimes they are easier to spot as one of them wears a red hat. Younger children will enjoy trying to spot the hidden bandit on the page.

Some of the vocabulary used throughout the book would prove challenging for most children within the targeted age range. The placing of the words on the page using 'word painting' might also prove challenging for some children. As Hortense's shadow grows, so does the size of the text. As Hortense falls down the steps the text also 'falls' down the steps. A great deal of the text is also positioned on top of the illustrations and as a result changes colour. None of these things should put you off reading this exquisite book. They make it an ideal book for sharing with children either as a class read or as a group read. They provide an abundance of opportunities to talk about the book and invite multiple readings.

Published: October 2017
Publisher: Puffin
ISBN: 978-0141374024

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