The Fairy Tale of the World

The Fairy Tale of the World

by Jurg Amman

This is not a fairy tale in the usual sense. There are no princesses, no golden eggs, no happy endings. A brooding portrait of a solitary postapocalyptic existence, The Fairy Tale of the World is nonetheless compelling.
            The story was originally conceived by a brilliant young


This is not a fairy tale in the usual sense. There are no princesses, no golden eggs, no happy endings. A brooding portrait of a solitary postapocalyptic existence, The Fairy Tale of the World is nonetheless compelling.
            The story was originally conceived by a brilliant young German writer, Georg Büchner, who died tragically at the age of twenty-three. His dark vision reflects the social injustice of his time.
            Award-winning Swiss author Jürg Amann has adapted The Fairy Tale of the World from a scene in Büchner’s Woyzeck, a moving play about the effects of poverty.
            Internationally acclaimed artist Käthi Bhend has stunningly and surprisingly interpreted Amman’s lyrical language and bleak imagery. Together they have created a book that offers not only Buchner’s dark vision but also a promise of innocence and hope in a dark, despairing world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bhend's intricately beautiful illustrations cannot lift this story out of its unrelenting despair. Based on an episode in the 19th-century German writer Georg Büchner's play Woyzeck, it describes the journey of a child who finds the earth deserted and the beauty of the heavens a delusion. As Amann describes the boy's circumstances, they are almost comically bleak--"Everyone had died; no one was left in the world"--and his exploration of the moon and sun fruitless. "hen he got there, he found that the moon was only a piece of rotten wood... whose rottenness glowed green in the dark night." But in contrast, Bhend's (In My Dreams I Can Fly) moon is an entrancing sphere of braided blue branches that floats alone in a black void; the boy climbs through the tangle toward a bird concealed at its heart. It's a remarkable vision, and her other spreads are no less inventive and are equally at odds with the hopelessness of the text. The publisher's age range should be heeded; this is not a book for young children. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
In My Dreams, I Can Fly (Booklist)
A meditative sense of mystery sets this book apart.It is autumn, and five friends—a grub, two worms, a beetle, and a caterpillar—are hunkering down. Their regular card games at the grub’s place give way to stockpiling their holes for the winter freeze. Bhend’s cut-away vision of this miniature underworld is a scraggly, cramped, cluttered, yet somehow cozy maze daubed in soft, muted colors and festooned with twisting vines that reach beyond each rectangular frame. It has a gently magical, early-Disney feel also reflected in the straightforward prose. For a time, the story seems to revel in its warm feelings without going anywhere, but then Hasler reveals two surprises: the onion the grub has hidden has pushed above ground and flowered, and the caterpillar has vanished, leaving behind a silken cocoon. After summer thaws the icy ground, the creatures find the caterpillar—now a butterfly—hovering near the flower, reflecting the grub’s dreams of being able to fly. An earnest, unfettered effort with enough visual detail to win over all kinds of readers and listeners.

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
This "fairy tale" in picture book format is far from the usual. Its grim, dark story is lightened only by Bhend's illustrations that seem to offer hope that all is not lost. Our "hero" is a poor child who finds himself alone in a world where everyone has died. On his way to heaven to search for them, he stops first at the moon. All he finds there seems rotten or moldy. Climbing to the sun, he is disappointed to discover only faded, withered flowers. Out to the stars, he wants to leave what he feels are mere mosquitoes or dust and return to earth. But there is nothing back there. He cries as long as he has tears. "And if he has not yet died, then he sits there still and is all alone." We meet the poor child on the jacket/cover, where he peers out at us wide-eyed from the center of an ornate circular frame. And so the strange story begins. Black star-studded skies add brilliant contrast to the moon, the sun, and the celestial bubbles that seem "dust" or "dirt." Striking, surreal double-page scenes, a few with white cones in the center like a spotlight on the boy, take him on his journey with his first connecting thread to earth. And after the final words, there is a scene to ponder. In an echo of the first page, the boy sits in another cone of light atop a pile of toys and other odd things. This time he is in a room with pictures on the walls and shadowy creatures, perhaps people, peering through opening doors. And he is smiling through tears. Not for the very young. There are added notes on the authors. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—In this picture book originally published in Switzerland, mesmerizing illustrations create a beautiful world of swirling stars and planets. The illustrations contrast starkly with the text, which is shockingly bleak: an anti-fairy tale in which everyone is dead except for a child. Tethered to a ball of yarn, he travels to the moon, sun, and stars, searching for something better and is always disappointed. The moon is "a piece of rotten wood," the sun is "a faded sunflower," and the stars are mosquitoes caught in spiderwebs. The child returns to Earth all alone, crying. "And if he has not yet died/then he sits there still/and is all/alone." Bhend's artwork plays counterpoint to the text, challenging the bleak worldview with its intricate beauty and brave, hopeful hero. While the last line says the boy is "all alone," a final page turn reveals him back in his room, tearful but smiling as his family peeks through the doors. Perhaps it was a dream, or a crying fit? Interpretation is left to readers, but hope remains. This book would work well for older students studying the interplay of text and illustration, or as an introduction to German literature (the story is adapted from Woyzeck, a play by 19th-century dramatist Georg Büchner).—Suzanne Myers Harold, Multnomah County Library System, Portland, OR
Kirkus Reviews
Once there was a poor child who had no father or mother—they, like everyone in the world, had died. In search of heaven, the lonely boy traverses the cosmos, but all that symbolizes hope and possibility is found worthless and what seemed bright and beautiful reeks of despair. The Earth is an empty vessel, and the moon, sun and stars become metaphors for the desolation and disease of the universe. Based on a story found in Georg Büchner's play Woyzeck, Amann's bleak adaptation offers a conversation piece for sophisticated readers. Bhend's lyrical artwork, done in colored pencil and mixed media, with its soft colors and texture, is a welcome contrast to the blackness of space and story. While her style seems simple, her cerebral images aptly represent the child's complex, metaphysical journey and are appropriately ripe with symbols. It is she who leaves readers with the idea that peace and comfort may be possible; the barren, dark realm evoked by the words demands this mercy. This may be a good companion for those studying Büchner, but it's sure not for the usual picture-book audience. (Picture book. 12 & up)

Product Details

North-South Books, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.40(w) x 10.20(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

GEORG BÜCHNER (1813-1837) died when he was only 23, but his place in German literature is monumental. As a writer who fought for the rights of underprivileged people—peasants, workers, everyone who suffered exploitation—Büchner was a fearless precursor of those who fight to protect human rights and social equality.
JÜRG AMANN is one of Switzerland’s most honored writers. He started his writing career with a study of Franz Kafka’s works, and has also worked as a journalist and a dramaturge at the main theater of Zürich.
KÄTHI BHEND’s illustrations have been described as “breathtaking,” “profoundly beautiful,” exquisitely detailed,” “extraordinary.” Born in Switzerland, Käthi studied commercial art and worked in advertising for several years before she began illustrating books.

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