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!)
The Mellops Strike Oil
Seeds and More Seeds
The Three Robbers
Christmas Eve at the Mellops'
I Am Papa Snap and These Are My Favorite No Such Stories
The Beast of Monsieur Racine
Book of Various Owls