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The Nightingale by Jerry Pinkney

The Nightingale

by Jerry Pinkney (Illustrator)

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The Nightingale, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.

After being signally unimpressed by Jerry Pinkney's retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale, in which the setting has been shifted from China to Morocco, I've been trying to figure out why it is that some fairy-tale adaptations involving a major cultural or national switch are successful, and others are not. Debbie Allen's Brothers of the Knight, for instance, is a wonderful retelling of the Brothers Grimm tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, transplanting the story from Germany to the African-American community of Harlem. Pinkney himself created a lovely edition of The Little Match Girl, set in turn-of-the-century America, rather than the more traditional nineteenth-century European city.

So why do such adaptations appeal to me, when this one leaves me cold? Part of it, of course, is that I'm a bit of a traditionalist, and while I recognize that adaptation and borrowing is a necessary part of the folk process - that, indeed, it is the folk process - I tend to prefer the tales (and songs) that are as close to the "original" as possible, whether that be the text of a literary fairy-tale, or the unexpurgated version of a folk-tale. So those adaptations which diverge widely from that original should do so for some good reason, or I tend to be unimpressed.

Debbie Allen's tale of the twelve dance-loving sons of a strict Harlem minister, for example, clearly draws inspiration from the idea of forbidden musical expression - a theme that has great significance in African-American history - and makes a connection between two traditions some might think have nothing in common. Likewise, Pinkney highlights the continuing significance of The Little Match Girl by transplanting it to another continent and time, demonstrating that children have suffered the ill effects of poverty and neglect in many different societies.

What then, does this Moroccan version of The Nightingale tell me? According to his afterword, that Pinkney and his editors wanted to set the tale in Africa, rather than China. No real reason for such a transplant is given, although the author does mention that he double-checked to make sure that nightingales do live on the continent. As far as I can tell, nothing in the tale spoke to Pinkney (or his editors) of Africa, nothing sparked a particularly Moroccan chord, suggesting some unexpected commonality. That being so, the change in setting struck me as rather arbitrary. It's admirable that Pinkney wanted to highlight the racial diversity of Morocco (again, according to his afterword), but wouldn't a traditional Moroccan tale have done that, while also exposing young children to another tradition? ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Jul 22, 2013 |
I always love a story about a king who learns humility. This one details an emperor who sends away for the nightingale because of its beautiful song. However, it is not long before the real bird is replaced with a machine, and the emperor realizes the grave mistake he has made.
  achertok | Dec 6, 2010 |
This story seems to me to hew very closely to what I remember of the original Nightingale by Andersen... but then, I don't have it directly in front of me to compare. Regardless, the only big change I see is moving the setting to Morocco instead of China (which is just as well, China was only chosen as a shorthand for "far away and mysterious", and who doesn't know all about China by now?) and having a "Fixer-of-all-Things" instead of a clockmaker.

The illustrations are colorful and lovely, and the story is as touching as always, with the classic Andersen theme of valuing the real above the fake. ( )
  conuly | Feb 17, 2010 |
The story of a nightingale bird that sand the most beautiful songs, ever. The bird becomes so famous throughout the land that the king demands her to be found. The bird meets the king and sings for everyone. Soon the nightingale was replaced by a gold and ruby covered singing bird. After the real bird disappears, the gold bird breaks. When the king was about to die, he needs music, and the nightingale gave him just that and in the morning the king was alive and healthy.
  terios | Oct 19, 2009 |
I think that this is a better book for older children who can read a little bit as well. It was very long to actually read, and it was a fairly involved book. The illustrations were interesting; my daughter enjoyed them and pointed to things frequently, exclaiming, "That's a nightgale!"

I think that the basic story behind this is an interesting one, and I'm glad that we checked it out. I think that my daughter enjoyed it, but it was very long to read, and my mouth got tired long before the book was over.

All in all, a pretty good book. ( )
  crashingwaves38 | Jan 31, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pinkney, JerryIllustratorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Andersen, Hans Christiansecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0803724640, Hardcover)

Following on the brilliant success of The Little Match Girl and his fourth Caldecott Honor Book, The Ugly Duckling, Jerry Pinkney brings us another enchanting adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. The Nightingale is the story of a plain little bird whose beautiful songs bring her great fame, even winning her an esteemed place in the king's court. Eventually, however, after saving the life of the king, the modest nightingale chooses to return to her peaceful life in the forest. Although the original tale is set in China, Jerry Pinkney decided to add a unique twist to his own adaptation by moving the setting to Morocco-and the resulting artwork is spectacular. The lush, elaborate watercolor illustrations feature the diverse peoples, rich costumes, and amazing architecture of Northwest Africa, making this version of The Nightingale a true picture book original!

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 19 Sep 2014 10:33:50 -0400)

Despite being neglected by the emperor for a jewel-studded bird, the little nightingale revives the dying ruler with its beautiful song. A retelling set in Northwest Africa.

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