I, Coriander

I, Coriander

by Sally Gardner


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In this exceptionally well-crafted tale, Coriander tells the story of her childhood in seventeenth-century London—and of her discovery that she has inherited magical powers from her mother, who was a fairy princess. But her mother’s sudden death brings on a dark time for Coriander. And after mourning her beloved mother and dealing with the disappearance of her father and the wrath of her evil stepmother, Coriander finds herself locked in a chest with no hope of escape and no will to survive. But when a bright light beckons to her, it is then that Coriander’s journey truly begins. Beautifully written, this magical and luminous story is destined to become a children’s classic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142407639
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/01/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 611,190
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Sally Gardner grew up and still lives in London. Being dyslexic, she did not learn to read or write until she was fourteen and had been thrown out of several schools, labeled unteachable, and sent to a school for maladjusted children. Despite this, she gained a degree with highest honors at a leading London art college, followed by a scholarship to a theater school, and then went on to become a very successful costume designer, working on some notable productions. After the births of twin daughters and a son, she started first to illustrate and then to write picture books and chapter books, usually with fairytale- or otherwise magical subject matter. She has been called 'an idiosyncratic genius' by London’sSunday Times. 

I, Coriander is her first book for older readers. Her stories for middle readers include Lucy Willow and the popular Magical Children series, The Strongest Girl in the World, The Invisible Boy, The Boy with Magic Numbers, The Smallest Girl in the World, The Boy with the Lightning Feet, and The Boy Who Could Fly. She has also written and illustrated picture books including The Fairy Catalogue, The Glass Heart, The book of Princesses and Playtime Rhymes.

Read an Excerpt

A Tale to Tell

It is night, and our old house by the river is finally quiet. The baby has stopped its crying and been soothed back to sleep. Only the gentle lapping of the River Thames can be heard outside my window. London is wrapped in a deep sleep, waiting for the watchman to call in the new day.

I have lit the first of seven candles to write my story by. On the table next to me is the silk purse that holds my mother's pearls and beside it is the ebony box whose treasure I am only now beginning to understand. Next to that, shining nearly as bright as the moon, stands a pair of silver shoes.

I have a great many things to tell, of how I came by the silver shoes and more. And this being my story and a fairy tale besides, I will start once upon a time . . . .

My name is Coriander Hobie. I am the only child of Thomas and Eleanor Hobie, being born in this house in the year of Our Lord 1643. It is just a stone's throw from London Bridge, with the river running past the windows at the back. To the front is my mother's once beautiful walled garden that leads through a wooden door out on to the bustling city street. The garden is all overgrown now; it has been neglected for too long. Once it was full of flowers and herbs of all description whose perfume could make even the Thames smell sweet, but now rosemary and nettles, briar roses and brambles have reclaimed it as their own.

It was this garden, the like of which no neighbors had ever seen, that first set tongues wagging. My father had planted it for my mother, and built her a pretty stillroom that backed on to the wall of the counting house. My mother in her quiet way knew more about herbs and their powers than anyone else, and together with her waiting woman, Mary Danes, she would spend hours in the stillroom, making all sorts of potions which were distilled and stored in tiny bottles. When I was small I used to hide under my mother's petticoats and listen to friends and neighbors as they brought their ailments to her like posies of sorrows, to be made better by one of her remedies. Later on, when I was too big to hide, they came to ask her other things, for by this time her reputation as a cunning woman with magical powers had spread as thistledown does, blown on the hot winds of gossip.

My first memories are of the garden and of this, my old bedchamber, whose walls my mother painted with fairy places and imaginary beasts. She wrote under each one in her fair script, and for every picture she had a story, as bright in the telling as the colors in which they were painted. When I was small I used to trace the letters with my finger, to feel how the spidery writing was raised above the wood paneling, and I would say the names to myself like a magic charm to keep harm at bay. All the pictures, like the garden's blooms, are gone now, washed and scrubbed away. Only the faintest trace of the gold letters remains. They still shine through, like the memories.

I used to believe that my mother's life had started with me and that before I made my entrance into this world there was nothing. Nothing, that is, until the midsummer's day when my father, Thomas Hobie, first saw my mother standing under an oak tree on a country lane.

This is the story he told me, and the story I loved the best. When he was a young merchant with a head full of dreams, he put his hard-earned savings, together with what money his father had left him, into a ship bound for Constantinople, banking on her returning with a cargo of silk. Alas, news reached him that she had been lost in a great storm at sea, so that now he owned nothing but the clothes on his back.

In despair, my father walked out of the city and some ten miles into the country, on the chance of being able to borrow money from a distant cousin, a Master Stoop. When he arrived he found that Master Stoop had given up the never-ending struggle with the living and had joined the ranks of the dead, leaving a wife and several small Stoops to be looked after.

My father had not the heart to ask for anything. Having paid his last respects, he set out mournfully on the road to London, resigned to his fate.

It was getting late when he met a strange-looking man with a long beard tied in a knot, holding a lantern as round as the moon. The stranger told him he had been robbed by a highwayman who had taken all he had owned, leaving him just the lantern. My father felt sorry to hear of this misfortune and offered him his cloak to keep the chill off. The stranger accepted it with thanks.

"Young man, to travel with an open and loving heart is worth more than all the gold coins in a treasure chest," he said. "Tomorrow your kindness will be rewarded."

My father wished the fellow well and hoped that nothing more would befall him. Then he set off again, with only the light of the moon to show him the way. As he walked, a wave of tiredness came over him and he lay down to sleep.

Next morning he had not gone far when he thought he might be lost, for in the dawn light everything looked different.

At this point I, having heard the story so many times that I could repeat it to myself word for word, would interrupt and say, "But you were on the right road." He would laugh and reply, "It was the road that would lead me to your mother, so how could it be wrong?"

To my childish way of thinking, it seemed that he met and married my mother in the space of one day. They arrived back in the city after the wedding to be greeted with the astonishing news that his ship had returned safe and sound with a cargo of fine silk.

From that day forward my father's life had been charmed with love and good fortune. No other merchant's ships fared as well. Untouched by pirates, wars, or tempests, his ships sailed unmolested in calm seas, bringing back bounty fit for a king. Before long, my father was wealthy enough to be able to build this house for us by the river, where we lived in great luxury, having a cook and servants to look after us as well as Sam, my father's faithful apprentice.

It was no surprise to me that all this should happen so fast. It never entered my head to ask what my mother's family thought of their daughter marrying a young man who was penniless, or even if she had any family to mind. All these questions and many more besides only occurred to me much, much later when there was no one left to ask.

My father had two miniature paintings done of them both shortly after their wedding. My mother's portrait shows her wearing a cream gown beautifully embroidered and oversewn with tiny glimmering pearls. I imagine that this is how she looked when my father first saw her that midsummer's day under the oak tree. Wild flowers are woven into her hair and in her hand she is holding an oak leaf.

The background of this tiny painting always fascinated me. It is as if you are a bird looking down from a great height, seeing the land mapped out below. There, in a forest of oak trees, is a clearing in which there is a grand house with formal gardens. In the distance a tower stands tall over the trees, and I could just make out a figure at the top of the tower watching over the landscape, searching for something or someone. On the edge of the forest is a hunting party with dogs. Compared to the house and the tower, they look oddly large. A hawk sits on the outstretched arm of one of the riders. Another rider is standing up in his saddle blowing a horn. I looked at this painting many times before I spotted the white horse and the fox hidden in a thicket. For some reason that I cannot explain, their discovery worried me greatly. It gave me an uneasy feeling, as if somehow nothing was safe.

My father's portrait shows him looking young and handsome. He is clean-shaven, wearing breeches and a linen shirt embroidered in the same pattern as my mother's dress. The scene behind him could not be more different. It is a view of a city with the river running through it like an opal green ribbon. You could be forgiven for thinking it a picture of London, except that the houses are brightly painted and mermaids and sea monsters can be seen in the water amongst a fleet of tall ships with full-blown golden sails.

Even then, these two miniatures looked to me strangely out of time, as if they had been painted long, long ago in another world entirely. I know now what they mean. I know why my mother kept silent and why, at my darkest moment, her past claimed me, leading me back to something that could no longer be denied.

Table of Contents


An interview with SALLY GARDNER

When did you start writing

I wrote my first picture book for Orion called The Little Nut Tree in 1993. It had more pictures in it than words, but the word that really struck a chord was the one written on the contract, and it said "Author." I have been really lucky to have in my publishing life an editor, Judith Elliott, who believed The Little Nut Tree was only the start. And I'm delighted to say she was right.

Who were your favorite authors as a child and who are your favorite authors now?

Charles Dickens, E. Nesbit, [Rachel Compton,] Jane Austen. The first book I ever read was Wuthering Heights. I only started to read when I was fourteen due to severe dyslexia, so a lot of childhood books I only enjoyed later. One of my most favorite author/illustrators now, and has been since my teens, is Edward Gorey. Everything by him is just a slice of heaven. Also in the best beloved section: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Alain-Fournier.

What is the one book that has influenced you most throughout your life?

Great Expectations. I simply love it; it has light and dark in spades and is full of wonderful characters and lots more besides. And every time I read it, it feels as if I'm reading it for the first time.

What would you like young readers to learn from I, Coriander?

Oh, I don't know. That is very hard. I hope they find it a good read. If you enjoy something, you learn without noticing it. I would love to be the kindling that sparks a child's interest in history. It is very important for all of us to know and learn about the past, for it holds a key to our future.

Which of Coriander's characteristics would you most like to have and why?

Her determination not to be put down, and her bravery for carrying on and standing up for herself no matter what.

What was your favorite book growing up?

A book about a frog that helped make Father Christmas better after a wicked witch had put a spell on him. Haven't a clue what it was called; I just loved the pictures and the story. Then there is The Wind in the Willows. It was read to me when small, which is a very happy memory. After being able to read, I simply loved books. In fact I couldn't get enough of them.

What are you reading now?

I have just finished reading Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now, which I hugely enjoyed, and I'm about to start The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Have you started working on your next book?

Not in the sitting down and click-clacking on the laptop sort of way. But in walking the dog on Hampstead Heath and thinking about it, most definitely.

Customer Reviews

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I, Coriander 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
ashooles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A nice mix between history and fantasy. I loved this story, even though it was written for younger people. It was a book, I found, that I could not put down. Fantastic.
Cecilturtle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book for young teens about a girl who finds out her mother is a fairy. From there she is drawn in a series of adventures against the evil queen Rosmore.It is an allegory for what happened during the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell's rule followed by the restauration.I'm not a big fan of fantasy literature and although the plot was made interesting by the historical allusions, it was a basic fairytale of good against evil. Gardner, however, has a wonderful style which conveys moods and pictures delightfully. As such, she is able to pique the reader's curiosity and maintain her interest until the end.
curlycurrie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't realise when I picked this up in a charity shop that it was a novel for young people. Finding this out almost put me off reading it but the cover design was ver tactile and it felt beautiful to hold. The theory of you should never judge a book by its cover has been blown out of the window by this book. Set in the 17th century it has a hint of historical fantasy which is encased in history covering Cromwell and the plague. It is beautifully written and the main character Coriander is captivating from the start. A definite must for adult readers who feel they left 'young fiction' behind them years ago!
brooklynj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another heartfelt tale, 'i Coriander' tells the story of a young girls upbringing and the multitude of events that shape her as a person. Set in London in the time of the Puritan commonwealth Coriander starts an adventure when she slips on a pair of silver shoes from an anonymous person.It all starts to slowly change, She soon finds out all her mother's deepest secrets and must fight the evil Rosmore, her grandfather's 2nd wife who has put him into a trance. To save her mother's beautiful, yet deadly power and her father's faith. As all things she once knew vanishes, she must fight the horror's of the angry, puritan world in which she lives, and those of the world of magic, which holds the secret of time and all things possible as death draws near.the theme of religion are what make this story unique in how it effects how the evil characters treat Coriander. I loved this book and was reccomended it by my mum.
wyvernfriend on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Someone reviewing the Merrybegot recommended this over it.They are both interesting stories. Both involve witch hunting but really that's where they diverge. Actually "I, Coriander" compares well with "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" if a lot lighter. It is a story of London and a London beside the real London which is faerie. Coriander has some sort of connection with that world and she has to find it out before her father's new wife kills her.
RefPenny on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the memoir of Coriander who lived in 17th century London during the aftermath of the English civil war. The only daughter of loving parents, her world changes dramatically when her mother dies and her father marries a puritan widow in an attempt to safeguard his family. Coriander discovers that her mother was a fairy and she herself is drawn into the fairy world. This book is an enjoyable read with plenty of action as well as an insight into earlier times.
jfoster_sf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really great book. I wasn't expecting it to be a Cinderella retelling-it was different than any other fairytale retelling I've read. It was very dark, at times, and some kids might not be ready for it, and I thought the ending was cut off a bit too soon, but all in all I liked it a lot, and I'm glad to have read it.
Alasia11 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book to women of all ages.
navelos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was darker then I expected but more interesting as well. The historical setting in London during the time of Cromwell added extra interest for me.
PrincessHeart1997 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
[I Coriander] And old-fashioned, mystious fairy tale tied with little girls wishes and a scary horrible truth though a childs mind this book can be amazing.I loved this book, i liked how you could make up and imagine the paintings of tales on corilanders wall then you yourself hate that awful wolman for painting over them and taking them away. I really got involved in this story and the well written plot made my nose stick in this book for days! I hated her step mother so much that i scared myself silly, i was 10 of course when i read this though..... I normally don't get up tight hating anyone so i got a bit scared of this book, silly enough. Not because of the characters but i imageined putting her step mum in a chest and laughing at her...... :)I also love witch books so this so did it for me! I love corrander and this made be think about religion a bit too! :L
chinquapin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an original fairy tale that opens in 17th Century London just after Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads have beheaded King Charles I and begun their crusade to eliminate joy from England, banning colorful clothes, singing and dancing, and even Christmas. Coriander is the only child of her parents and very much doted upon. One day she mysteriously receives of gift of beautiful silver shoes which her mother at first does not want to let her wear and which she obviously knows more about than she is revealing. A few years later, Coriander's mother dies and her father ends up marrying a Puritan woman in order to squelch rumors that he is a Royalist, plotting against the Roundheads. This opportunistic, evil stepmother plots and schemes until Coriander's father flees the country under threats leaving her alone with this evil, sadistic woman. It is during this time that Coriander discovers her true heritage from her mother and the world of the fairies enters her life. For a children's novel, this was very well-written and had an intriguing storyline. The juxtaposition of Cromwell's England the world of the fairies was well-done. I was very drawn to the main character, Coriander, and I loved the device of telling the story with six candles marking the major divisions..."And so the first part of my life is told, and with it a candle goes out."
bojanfurst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
These days there is so much good fiction for young adults that I am finding it hard to resist reading as much of YA stuff as I can while an ever growing pile of books for grownups keeps getting higher. I, Coriander was an accidental find at my favourite local children's bookstore and I am glad I read it. An engaging read, I, Coriander blends the worlds of Cromwell's 17th century England with the imaginary land of fairies well.Where the book fails, and it is sufficiently nagging failing to somewhat ruin otherwise good story, is in providing adequate motif for the father's actions. We never get a satisfactory explanation why is it that he left Coriander behind with her horrible step-mother. (I find the ending to be another minor irritant - it's just a bit too much of a Disney-like cliche with a string of marriages and happily-ever-afters.) Having said that, the book was an intriguing read and it could provide an excellent introduction into difficult discussions about family violence and religious violence for an appropriate age group. The historic portion of the novel is compelling and complex. The novel also features a strong female character who deals with serious issues and makes difficult choices - and that alone is worth an extra star.
BekiLynn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fairy Folk Tales ion Cromwell's England - an engaging mix. The story is intriguing and I found I couldn't put it down. The characters ring true and you can't help but want to see how it all turns out. In a time when YA titles abound this one is a real keeper - I really liked it.
patrickdjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reads like a children's version of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, with a parallel magical world leaking into ours (also has a raven), but set two centuries earlier, during the English Civil War. Enjoyed this one more; sufficiently dark, but still charming, and the characters actually breathe.
Nikkles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Extremely well written. A really great story. The end felt a bit rushed but other than that really good book.
mikkireads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After her mother dies and her father, a Royalist, flees to escape punishment from Cromwell's regime, Coriander is left in the hands of her cruel, greedy stepmother and her partner in crime, Puritan minister Arise Fell. When the two lock Coriander in a trunk and leave her to die, she travels to her mother's fairy world, finds her love Prince Tycho, and realizes that things will only worsen in both worlds unless she prevents the evil fairy Queen Rosmore from finding her mother's shadow. The story is well-written and the characters are, for the most part, rich and interesting. The Tycho love plot feels more functional (every fairy tale needs a prince) than believable, however, and the ending feels forced. Still, Gardner's London comes to life, as does the fairy world. The audio version is well-executed, though Maud's voice is so shrill and horrible (true to her character) that you will hope she dies early on, and be disappointed when she doesn't.
librarymeg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book combines a strong atmosphere of magic with a definite sense of historical place. Readers who prefer straight fairy tales may feel bogged down by descriptions of Oliver Cromwell's England, while readers who enjoy strong historical stories may feel like the fairy tale is a waste of their time. However, for that lucky individual who shares a love of history with a sense of wonder and love of a good fairy tale, this book offers a unique experience. Coriander is a young girl in possession of a pair of beautiful silver shoes that seemed to play a part in a visit to a mysterious land. Soon after, her mother falls seriously ill and dies, sending her father into a grief-stricken state. Fairy tale lovers will find everything here: the wicked stepmother, the evil queen, the handsome prince locked in a shape not his own, the menacing crow, and the benevolent (if absent) father. Coriander must use all her courage, intelligence, and beauty to meet the challenges she faces and set her world to rights. I'm fascinated by the England of the Commonwealth and the Restoration, and I enjoy stories of magic and wonder. If you're like me, you'll enjoy Coriander's story and how it twines around and through England's own coming-of-age.
E_KatherineEA More than 1 year ago
I read this book  a long while ago, maybe seven years back, when I was handed off an advanced reading copy and I've never been able to get it out of my head. It was spectacular and just the right mix of dark and fantastic to really capture the imagination. I wonder if it would hold up now that I'm in college.  Either way, I think it's worth a second read and I'll definitely get my hands on a paperback this summer.
book4children More than 1 year ago
Magical, beautiful, and lyrical. I, Coriander was well written and fantastically told. This is a fairytale with complex characters and intricate plot lines. While it may not be completely historically accurate, it is a fun glimpse into the past as you follow Coriander through her childhood, and her many discoveries about her mother and herself. Coriander is an intelligent, whimsical girl that is full of love and goodness. She loves her father and the many friends that help her throughout the story. The book was unique and interesting in so many ways. I especially loved the seven candles which she used to write her story by. The alligator added an interesting element, as did her mother's shadow, and the event of being locked in the chest and finding herself in fairyland. Large chunks of Coriander's life are skipped because our world and the fairyland world run on different clocks. Every time Coriander goes to fairyland, a few years would pass in our world. The characters of Master Thankless, Danes, Hester, and Gabriel are all beautiful in their own way. I love their selflessness and inner goodness. They truly care for Coriander and each other and go through great lengths to help one another out. There are several bad guys in this book, including the ever wicked stepmother named Maud and her preacher friend, Arise Fell. These two are particularly disturbing and terrifying. Maud is horrid to the core, and Arise is a deranged old man with a twisted perception about God. Rosmore, the evil fairy queen, is not as complex as Maud or Arise, but adds that magical quality to the story and provides a motive behind the entire plot. Feminism is a topic that is brought up a few times. Gardner mentions how people in the 1650s thought that it was a waste for a girl to learn to read or speak another language because women have feeble minds. Coriander also talks about the freedom that comes from wearing breeches instead of an apron which ties a woman to house and home. The recommended age is 9-12 years, but I would lean more to the older side of that age group. There are large portions of the book that are pretty dark. There is abuse, death, and even murder that happen. The writing style is also a little advanced for younger children. They might have a difficult time understanding the characters, the situations, and the different worlds. I gave this book four and a half stars. It was a beautiful fairytale that you could read several times over. The only thing that I did not like about it was that the ending of the book was too perfect. Every character's story was wrapped up and tied with a neat little bow
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
pinkfairytale More than 1 year ago
I love fairytales. I saw this book at the library and LOVED the cover art so I took it home and read it. Recently I reread it and I am not sure what to make of it. It is almost as if I should read it over agian just to make sure that I didn't miss out on everything. This story was not what I expected. I thought it was well writen and very complex at the same time. The story is a bit hard to understand because of the 2 realm thing going on. I thought that a huge part of the story was missing - it was almost as if the character didn't know about what was going on and didn't really care...? I mean she is sent into another world at one point and she doesn't really question how she got there or who the people she meets are etc... I thought a few things were out of place as well ( I don't want to give anything away though). The middle of the story was rather depressing to me. The love affairs were rather strange and well...sudden. Overall I thought this story could have been much better but I am still going to give it three stars for an interesting plot, setting (settings), and memorable characters. I would suggest checking it out at the library and then buying it if you really like it. - there were questionable things throughout this book. Parents might want to check it out a bit further. The D word was used twice I believe, and there were a couple of other problems that might bother some readers or parents....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too_Busy_Reading_To_Write More than 1 year ago
This book was readable, and the premise was interesting, but the "fairy tale" part of the story was not believable. There was a lack of investment in the fairy realm by the author that left too many holes and unanswered questions. Coriander's voice doesn't change despite the span in years, and when we reach the resolution, I felt like I could care less--the end feels more like an epilogue.?? I think there are many other books of this genre of better quality. It might interest a young reader, but won't hold up to the test of time. Cool dust jacket, though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago