This version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale sticks to the original story enough to be heartfelt in the same way as the original, retaining the themes of finding one’s inner beauty and place in the world. Besides cutting unnecessary details from the original story (of which there are many), the only things that are changed in this version include the ugly duckling’s mother never saying anything negative about him. and the children who take in the ugly duckling never being mean. I appreciate Pinkney changing these two details, because the idea of a character who was never treated nicely by anyone in his life is pretty rough for children. I think having most, but not all, of the characters be unkind to the ugly duckling is adequate.
I’m glad the children in this version were always kind to the ugly duckling, especially since, according to Maria Tatar’s The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, the meanness of these children came not from Andersen’s wish to have the duckling mistreated until the end, but from Andersen’s own dislike of children. This is one example of modern authors changing classic stories for the better, I think. However, I wish the part with these children trying to play with the duckling had been illustrated. It would have been very interesting to see a picture of the children trying to play with the duckling but him running away, thinking they were being mean.
The illustrations do show, however, that the same children see the duckling after he becomes a beautiful swan, but don’t recognize him. According to a commentator’s analysis of this story, referenced by Maria Tatar in The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, the bread they throw to the duckling is meant to be thought of as a symbolic result of the milk, butter, and flour he jumps into when trying to get away from the children. In that case, even though the part about him jumping into these food items isn’t in Pinkney’s retelling, maybe when I retell the story, I’ll make it clear that the children admiring the swans are the same children who tried to play with the duckling, and that the bread they throw to him is made from the very same milk, butter, and sugar he jumped into. I would have him jump into these food items when the kids are trying to play with him and be nice, but he is afraid.
Another thing the illustrations don’t show that I wish they did is the other ducklings right after they hatched, when their down was still wet and ruffled. They show the ugly duckling right after he hatched, but they don’t show his brothers and sisters until after they’re dry, fluffy, and cute. This is not fair. They should have shown his brothers and sister right after hatching, too, to show that all birds are ugly right after they hatch. This would have helped the illustrations show that the duckling wasn’t really ugly; just different from the others.
The only other part I would have liked to see illustrated that wasn’t was the autumn after the duckling went back to the pond. I think Pinkney chose not to illustrate it because it is not an important part of the story, but if I retold and illustrated my own version, I would try to fit the autumn in, because autumn is my favorite season.
All in all, I think this is a pretty good retelling of “The Ugly Duckling.” The text is beautiful, and the illustrations are beautiful, too, showing lots of details in both the story and the background. The retelling also strikes a nice balance between sticking to the original story and improving it in parts. I think it could have improved it further while still maintaining the essence of the story, but it is not at all bad the way it is.