Bodil Bredsdorff,
The Crow Girl
(Farrar Strauss & Giroux, 2004)

The Crow Girl, by Bodil Bredsdorff, is an exceptional book, beautifully written and moving in its simplicity. This Danish children's story has a fairy-tale quality, each event an essential lesson for our little heroine as she faces terrible hardships and learns to thrive.

Crow-Girl (a name which she chose for herself, as she was never given any other) lives with her ailing grandmother in a little cottage by the sea. As there is no grown person to help, Crow-Girl has learned to do all that is necessary for the two to survive. She fishes for mussels and make the meals, she cleans, gathers firewood and never lets the fire die out. This is very good, because when Grandmother dies, she is alone, without even the comfort of another's presence.

Though only a child, she must strike out on her own, facing down greedy opportunists who think to make use of her as slave labor, enduring the theft of her few possessions and even acquiring responsibility for another child, younger than herself. How can one so young survive so many difficult things and so much heartbreak? It seems at times that the sufferings of the Crow-Girl are never ending, though she is a patient and capable little girl and manages to make the best of it all.

There is no pretense in this writing, and in no way is suffering diminished; in fact, it is as truly represented as in life itself.

And so I am unable to decide if this is an appropriate book for children or not. Though the publisher recommends it for children between ages 8 and 12, I am not sure if I would give it to anyone so young. While I think it is a wonderful story for adults, I question a child's ability to face the sadness of the little Crow-Girl's life. Just as reading The Little Prince as an adult made me examine life from a new perspective, I think so too did reading this.

But perhaps this is an overprotective response to the reality of suffering. Perhaps in the way that fairy tales gently warn of life's dangers through allegory, the Crow-Girl's story may give children a way of perceiving suffering from a safe distance. Maybe in a world so fraught with danger and sadness as ours, a tale such as this is exactly what is called for.

So I think it best for you to decide for yourself. I would recommend that you read the book before presenting it to a child, and then prepare several topics for discussion for after your child has read it. I'm not even sure yet if I will read it to my son, who is 11. (Although Bredsdorff is a well-known Danish children's author, it is yet to be seen how an American audience will respond to this, her first U.S. release.)

Certainly this novel has a place among children's classics such as Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan or The Jungle Book. It is writing of the highest quality and provokes emotions as real as the trials the orphaned Crow-Girl endures.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 8 May 2004

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