Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Tomi Ungerer ~ Parent's Magazine Press, 1974

It seems that one of our favorite authors is dipping a toe into the world of Facebook and Twitter, which, to me, has just made the Internet like a billion times cooler. In celebration, I'm posting on an Ungerer book that's been featured as breakfast reading for the past few mornings. Labeled as "A fable, with due respect to Hans Christian Anderson, the Grimm Brothers and the honorable Ambrose Bierce," the first page introduces us to the title character.

Summer and winter, spring and fall,
Allumette dressed in rags.
She had no home. She had no parents.
Allumette fed on scraps from garbage bins,
found shelter in empty doorways
and slept in abandoned cars.
She eked out a living, wandering the city,
selling matches nobody wanted.
If the start sounds dismal, it is. Allumette is in the midst of the holiday season with shoppers passing her by on the street and store owners running her away from their shop windows. Bitter cold and hunger nearly drive her to madness. She says a prayer to no one in the night, wishing for food... Suddenly a storm of cakes and turkeys and hams begin to rain upon her, then toys and dolls and televisions (one with a photo of Ungerer on screen, I think) and warm beds. Is it real? Yes. Does the girl keep it all? Goodness no. She becomes a goodwill ambassador for all the weak and voiceless people and starts her own Matchless Light of the World Foundation. Without giving it away, the words on the last page just kill me (but you all know I'm prone to weeping at children's books so take that with a pound or two of salt.) The incredible hat even makes a surprise appearance.The overall tone reminds me of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl, and the illustrations are appropriately drab and sometimes sinister. In full disclosure, this is the only Ungerer book with images that actually scare the boy. In particular, an illustration of a wounded man draped in bandages, but the theme carries such a wonderful message of humanity, that once I talk him through it, he seems to understand. And his world view is all the better for it. In a time when earthquakes are causing such devastation and people are going without jobs and homes and liberties, these sorts of messages are crucial in raising a new generation of leaders. If that doesn't win you over, at least in this version of Hans Christian Anderson's Little Match Girl, the main character doesn't die. Think of all the hope in that sentiment.

(Do check out Tomi's new Website. Filled with all sorts of wonderful info like the fact there's a Moon Man opera. Fabulous!)

Also by:
The Hat
The Mellops Strike Oil
Seeds and More Seeds
The Three Robbers
Zarelda's Ogre
Christmas Eve at the Mellops'
I Am Papa Snap and These Are My Favorite No Such Stories
The Beast of Monsieur Racine
Moon Man
Book of Various Owls


Caryn said...

I found this book last summer in a bargain bin at a used bookstore. I was captivated by it and slightly terrified of some of the images as well! :) I'm so glad you reviewed it too. I love to hear your perspective on them!

we_be_toys said...

Okay, I knew I had seen this illustrator before, and then I saw "Crictor" in the list below. What a great book! I always hated the ending of "The Little Match Girl", so this would definitely be on my list of Have-to-find books.

I love your blog! My sister told me about it, and I can't believe I haven't been here sooner.

Burgin Streetman said...

thanks and thanks!

Janna said...

Wow, love that Tomi Ungerer has FB and Twitter now.

On an unrelated note... my friend's daughter loves birds so I'd like to get her some bird books for her 2nd birthday. I know your son is a bird lover too, so I was wondering if you could recommend some good books about birds (vintage or otherwise), preferably for toddlers. Thanks!

Burgin Streetman said...

Kevin Henkes wrote a wonderful picture book called "Birds" that is really sweet and that the boy loved. Perfect for a two year old.


The Giant Golden Book of Birds from the 60s is super awesome too! Here's a copy available on an Etsy site, but they are available all over online.


And here's a link to the Golden Nature Guide for Birds but it's available everywhere too... even in a new edition. The big one might be better for a two year old because the pictures are huge and colorful.


hope this helps...

Christina Rodriguez said...

Wow, I love his technique! He infuses a comedic energy into this watercolors, even with such sad subject matter. This is great!

Janna said...

Thank you soo much for the help! Those look great... I am definitely getting her that first book. :)

Julie Falatko said...

Ok, here's what I'm always unsure about with Facebook. Did you friend Tomi Ungerer? I mean, I feel like he's my friend because we read "The Three Robbers" all the time and all that, but he doesn't know me, and so will he be wondering who this random woman in Maine is? I don't want to incur the wrath of Tomi Ungerer! (Mostly I'm asking if you friended him and he accepted without question.)

Burgin Streetman said...

he encourages Facebook "friending" on his website, so i assume he is using the site as a marketing tool... like a fan page. have at it!

Jo Miller said...

I just found my copy of this book that I had when my daughters were young children. They now have children of their own and had asked me about the book for their children because they remembered it so fondly. We remembered it, though, as the Little Match Girl and could not find it online. When I found my copy I began searching to find a copy for them and found your blog. It is a wonderful book.

Eugen Slavik said...

Tomi rules! Gosh, the more I look at his illustrations... That's it.

Anonymous said...

It's taken me 31 years to track this book down. I thought I had made it up. Saw it once or twice in primary school age 6 or 7. The images stayed with me as they are so strong, sinister and compelling. It takes you from the depths of the worst gutters to the heights of sheer relief and joy between the front and back cover. A magical modern classic

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