Review of Arnica, the Duck Princess

We’re very excited because our next World Kid Lit LIVE session is happening today! To get you in the mood for our focus on Central European Literature for Young Readers, we are delighted to publish this review by Nanette McGuinness, which first appeared on the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative blog back in 2019. We think it’s the perfect time to revisit it….

Make way for a wonderful fairy tale for readers ages 6-10!

Written by beloved Hungarian children’s author Ervin Lázár, Arnica, the Duck Princess features sumptuously colored, folk art illustrations by Jacqueline Molnár that make it both a satisfying read-aloud and read-alone book, bridging the gap between picture book and middle grade chapter book.  Anna Bentley’s English translation is spot on.

Fairy stories are morality tales, at heart, and this one is no exception. Arnica is a sweet, gentle princess who falls in love with Poor Johnny, a free spirit who owns nothing. Luckily he loves her back. Equally luckily, her single-parent father (King Tirunt) believes in true love and approves of their match.  But before the happy couple can waltz off into the sunset, the Witch with a Hundred Faces turns them into ducks!  Returning one of them to human form is easy, but both?  Ah, there hangs the rest of the tale.  We also hear from two unnamed characters who comment on the dilemmas, feelings, and actions along the way.  While this description may seem dry, the combination makes for a satisfying stew filled with whimsy and humor.

Is Arnica, the Duck Princess a cautionary tale à la Brothers Grimm, or a jolly story that ends happily ever after? You’ll have to read this marvelous book to find out.

Author Ervin Lázár (1936-2006) was the 1982 runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award and won three IBBY awards.  Although his books have been translated into numerous languages, Arnica, the Duck Princess is the first to reach English-speaking readers. One can only hope that Anna Bentley has more Lázár translations in store!

Arnica, the Duck Princess
By Ervin Lázár
Illustrated by Jaqueline Molnar
Translated from the Hungarian [Hungary] by Anna Bentley
2019, Pushkin Press
ISBN-13: 978-1927271889

Reviews: Kirkus; Publishers Weekly

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Many thanks to GLLI for allowing us to share this review. You can watch Anna reading from Arnica the Duck at the 2021 American Literary Translators Association Conference. And join us at 4pm GMT today for World Kid Lit LIVE.