Hortense and the shadow

Natalia O'Hara

Book - 2017

Hortense hates her shadow for following her everywhere and thinks her shadow hates her, too, but when she faces bandits she finds that a shadow is just what she needs.

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Picture books
New York ; Boston : Little, Brown and Company 2017.
Main Author
Natalia O'Hara (author)
Other Authors
Lauren O'Hara (illustrator)
First U.S. edition
Item Description
Originally published: London : Puffin Books, 2017.
Physical Description
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

PICTURE BOOKS ABOUT SHADOWS, darkness and echoes are perennial and enduring. Still I was surprised to see that this fall, three attractive books about shadows are being published, and in all three, the shadows - in one way or another - become detached from the protagonists, showing their divergent and distinctive personalities. They are uniformly more playful, brave and clever than their human counterparts. I typically stay away from children's books that dispatch moral instruction with a sense of authority, but as it turns out, when it comes to shadows, the impulse to impart wisdom is especially difficult to suppress. Shadows are proxies for the unconscious, repressed or unrealized side of the self. It's not a bad thing to offer stories for children that foster confidence through introspection. It's not a bad thing to encourage children to be more courageous. But as these three shadow stories show, a book can rise or fall on the strength of how it does those things. In "Smoot, a Rebellious Shadow," the tables are turned, and the story is told from the perspective of Smoot, the shadow. Smoot's adventure begins with the words, "But shadows can dream and when they do, the dreams are filled with color." Not unlike Pinocchio, Smoot desires a real life - a life filled with adventure and "colored freedom." Colored freedom? And then, just like that - "pop," we read - he becomes unstuck and embarks on a raucous adventure filled with bravery and bravado (just like a real boy). The other shadows take note and remark, "If he can follow his dreams, we can too." Smoot's brief adventure - which, weirdly, happens against a Tuscan or Umbrian hilltop backdrop - has a positive influence on the entire world of shadowy figures. In the end, there is only one person who still needs Smoot's help - the boy who cast the sooty shadow in the first place. He was watching all along. And now (spoiler alert) he wants to be more like Smoot. As in his previous books like "Sidewalk Flowers" and "The White Cat and the Monk," Sydney Smith's illustrations have a sort of effortless freedom that belies the careful pacing and thoughtful page designs. There is one glorious, wordless spread where Smoot cuts across the gutter against a clamor of color. In the end, it's the illustrations I admire most in this book. I have been an admirer of Serge Bloch ("Reach for the Stars," "Butterflies in My Stomach") for a long time, and "George and His Shadow" didn't let me down. For me, his offbeat artwork is reminiscent of the best French poster art from between the world wars - artists like Villemot or Savignac. If you ever wonder things like, Who would have thought that a puck of raw hamburger topped with a raw egg would be delicious? Well, Bloch might have! George, the book's main character, lives a truly unremarkable life - a sort of shadow of what might have been. The book begins with, "It seemed like an ordinary day. A day just like any other." The short, clipped words and sentences complement Bloch's illustrative approach perfectly. It's as though the writer, Davide Cali, wrote the book with Bloch in mind. ("He'll want to draw a vacuum cleaner sucking up the shadow at some point, I suppose.") Here too, the protagonist's castaway shadow - defying George at every turn - forces him out of his monotonous, humdrum routine. In the end, the shadow helps George to become more comfortable with who he is: some middle-aged French guy with Le Corbusier glasses and a green tartan fedora. Still, I'd really like to go over to his apartment sometime for Calvados and steak Tartare - and who knows what else? Two sisters named Natalia and Lauren O'Hara are the makers of "Hortense and the Shadow," a handsome debut picture book. According to a publicity note they wrote, they grew up in a "grim little town in the north of England" but are descended from both Austro-Hungarian nobility and Polish butchers - an ideal background for these self-professed admirers of Lemony Snicket, Hans Christian Andersen and Carson Ellis. (What about Edward Gorey?) When we meet Hortense, she is angry and sad that her shadow follows her everywhere. What a pain. Perhaps her shadow is a metaphor for the fate of that annoying Austro-Hungarian nobility - always tagging along, unwanted and uninvited. So Hortense finds a way to lose her shadow. That's going great for her, until she is saved from a band of marauding nighttime bandits by none other than her decidedly braver shadow. Full of remorse, she exclaims, "Oh, shadow, I saw things all wrong. . . . What's a page without ink, or a deer without spots, or a moon without night? You're part of me, shadow. Please come back!" Does Hortense's shadow return? You'll have to buy the book to find out. It's beautifully designed, with excellent production values, and if the story doesn't quite live up to its formidable ambitions, it's worth noting that they are admirably big indeed. 0 When it comes to shadows, the impulse to impart wisdom is strong. FRANK VIVA is the author and illustrator of picture books including "Along a Long Road" and "Outstanding in the Rain."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 16, 2018]
Review by Booklist Review

Amid the woods' rabbits and wolves, ravens and deer, a young girl, Hortense, wars with the sight of her own shadow. Sometimes Hortense's shadow is no different than any other: Everywhere she went, it went. Everything she did, it did. But when Hortense starts rebelling against it dipping behind columns; lurking beneath sofas; and, ultimately, flinging it from a window the shadow, a dark, spindly force in its own right, fights back. It wails. It claws. And then it disappears but not for long. The fablelike charm of this picture-book debut, a collaboration between sisters, is undeniable. While Natalia O'Hara's sparse, lilting text provides a haunting poetic undercurrent, Lauren O'Hara's intricate illustrations, awash with cool blues and opaline whites, and filled with woodland creatures and towering trees, invoke a frosted fairytale magic. Inquisitive youngsters seeking a bedtime yarn with equal parts spooky suspense and serious reflection will find it in this wintry wonderland and in the next glimpse of their own shadow. Pair with folktale-style gems such as Gennady Spirin's The Tale of the Firebird (2002) to further the enchantment.--Shemroske, Briana Copyright 2017 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This haunting, folk tale-style debut from two sisters combines delicate, wintry images with dark thoughts. Hortense lives in a mansion that looks very much like a Russian Orthodox church, with onion domes, turrets, and ornate furniture. Hortense is "kind and brave," but she's locked in conflict with her own shadow. She's not just irritated by it: "Hortense hated her shadow." The O'Haras draw Hortense with a spidery black line looking angrily at her shadow on the snow-it's long, gray, and menacing. In a convulsion of despair, Hortense dashes through a window and slams it behind her, casting her shadow from the house altogether. But when bandits arrive one night, it's her shadow who saves her. It's an allegory of reconciliation with the dark emotions human beings inevitably harbor; if Hortense's shadow is sometimes "dark, fierce, strange, silly, jagged, or blue, well... sometimes Hortense is too," the story concludes. Some readers may be unsettled by the depth of Hortense's obsession, made all the spookier by garden tracery and architectural embellishment right out of Rebecca, but children who love eerie stories will be fascinated. Ages 4-8. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 1-3-This picture book, the first creation by the O'Hara sisters, has the look and feel of a classic fairy tale. Hortense, a young girl lives in a snowy woods filled with wildlife. She is kind and brave, but there is one thing she absolutely detests-her shadow. It is tall and crooked and constantly following her around. She tries to hide it and run from it, until fated a day in the park when she realizes that her shadow hates her, too. Hortense hatches a plan and finally separates herself from her shadow, severing it with a closed window pane. Life goes on and Hortense is seemingly happy, until she meets a group of bandits in the night. Luckily, her shadow saves the day by becoming different intimidating figures (even a bear) and scares the bandits away. Hortense is grateful and realizes that her shadow is indeed a brave part of her that shows her how big she can be and how far she can go. Dreamy, detailed artwork is stylized and evocative, playing with light and shadow in its minimal palette and impressionistic scenes. It is extremely well executed and does the heavy lifting in creating the mood and shifting emotions of the story. VERDICT A uniquely told tale with beautiful illustrations, this is a recommended purchase for all libraries. Great for reading aloud and discussing with students.-Jasmine L. Precopio, Fox Chapel Area School District, Pittsburgh © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A young white girl in a snowy, onion-domed fairyland setting escapes from her shadow only to find she is not whole without it. Hortense hates her shadow. It follows her everywhere, it does everything she does, and it grows "tall and dark / and crooked" when night falls. One day, Hortense escapes from her shadow, slamming the window on it, and her shadow is left behind. Hortense feels happy and free without the hated shadowuntil the bandits show up. (These bandits are hidden within the illustrations throughout the book for sharp-eyed readers to discover.) When her shadow saves her, Hortense realizes that instead of being a hated nuisance, her shadow is an indispensable part of her, and so, in good fairy-tale fashion, all ends happily ever after. Natalia O'Hara's playful, dreamlike story is written in a lyrical cadence and relies on the poetry of the words themselves more than the reality they outline for meaning: ("she was as sad as an owl"). Lauren O'Hara (the O'Haras are sisters) contributes her own layer to the story's fanciful mood with her soft illustrations of muted colors, filled with snowy landscapes, looming trees (for the scary bits), and storybook, folkloric buildings whose interiors show whimsical decorative details. A delicate original fairy tale that will likely appeal to young readers of imagination. (Picture book. 3-5) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.