Activities & Projects to Honor Hans Christian Andersen

Tomorrow is International Children’s Book Day, a yearly event sponsored by the International Board on Books for Young People. Founded in 1967, the day is observed on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, April 2. Activities include writing competitions, announcements of book awards and events with authors of children’s literature. I’ve thereby chosen to share with you a number of activities and projects to honor Hans Christian Andersen.

Hans Christian Andersen was born in the town of Odense, Denmark, on Tuesday, April 2, 1805. Although a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, Andersen is best remembered for his fairy tales which have been translated into more than 125 languages.  His tales present lessons of virtue and resilience in the face of adversity and thereby appeal to both children and mature readers. Some of his most famous fairy tales include The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Nightingale, The Emperor’s New Clothes and many more.

“Life itself is a most wondrous fairytale.”

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His stories have inspired plays, ballets, and both live action and animated films. Most recently, inspired by The Snow Queen, Walt Disney Animation Studios produced the computer-animated film, Frozen, released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2013.  The film has so far grossed $1.049 billion in worldwide box office revenue and has met with widespread critical acclaim, with several film critics considering it to be the best Disney animated musical since the studio’s renaissance era.

Those who love Hans Christian Andersen, however, know there is much more to him than his literary repertoire.  He was as equally gifted with the skill of Scherenschnitte as he was with words. He was also very fond of music.

“Where words fail, music speaks.”

Not surprisingly, statues and monuments in Andersen’s honor are found the world over.  The most famous statue based on a Hans Christian Andersen story is the Statue of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Denmark. There is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen and the Ugly Duckling in Central Park in New York City. My favorite honorarium to Andersen (though I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it in person) is in the Jesperhus Flower-park in Denmark. I think Andersen would have appreciated this memorial to him.

Activities & Projects

Select Biographies & Fairy Tales

Scherenschnitte Resources

Hans Christian Andersen’s stories are without a doubt memorable.  Once you have read a book by Hans Christian Andersen, you remember it.  One of my favorites is Thumbeline – the feisty tiny girl who fights off toads and moles who want her for their own, and is able to find her way to marriage with a little flower-fairy prince who is perfect for her. Or who can forget the wise little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes who has the courage to point out what others could not, that the Emperor was not wearing invisible clothes, as the Emperor believed, but in fact was wearing no clothes.

To find out about more people born in April hop on over to iHomeschool Network’s April birthdays page.

Discovering Scherenschnitte with Hans

I have loved the stories of Hans Christian Andersen since I was a little girl.  I remember very clearly listening to my dad read aloud Tumbelina as he tucked me into bed at night. To this day, it is one of my favorite stories. You can imagine my delight when I finally got to “meet him” while we were in Copenhagen last May.

Scherenschnitte with Hans Christian Andersen @EvaVarga.netHans, as I will affectionately refer to him here, was known not only for his skill at storytelling, but also for his ability to cut intricate paper designs.  Remarkably, he would entertain guests by snipping away at paper while he orally told his stories.

At the conclusion of his story, he would reveal the delicate image he had been cutting. Most often, the image he cut told a pictorial story completely different from the one he told in words and his audiences were amazed.

History of Scherenschnitte

Papercutting has a long history dating back to ancient Chinese who used it to form stencils to decorate fine silks. The technique likely found its way to Europe in the early 17th century through trade with Asia.

The term “Chinese shadow” was originally used but was replaced by “silhouette” in France when a banker, Etienne de Silhouette, lent his name to the term. As the minister for finance of Louis XV, he proposed that the king should commission only black-and-white shadow portraits instead of expensive oil pictures.

In France it was originally a bourgeois art but soon became a favorite pasttime for everybody.  Famous artists like Philipp Otto Runge, Adolph von Menzel, and Goethe and later well known artists, such as Matisse and Picasso, created art using this technique.

Scherenschnitte with Kids

Kids are generally familiar with the art of paper cutting – having made paper snowflakes to adorn their windows in winter. However, scherenschnitte is an art that can be enjoyed year-round.

I recently introduced our Barnesklubb kids to the scherenschnitte work of Hans Christian Andersen and was delighted with the number of families that turned out for the activity. I began by reading aloud his short story, The Beetle, which he wrote in 1861.

Upon concluding the story, I revealed to the kids a beetle that I had cutout previously [alas, I would not have been capable of doing it simultaneously].  I also shared with them the book featured below; the kids were all intrigued and spent the next hour trying their own hand at paper cutting.

Author Beth Wagner Brust tells the story of Hans Christian Andersen as an artist, describing how and why he made paper cuttings, which, like his tales, were innovative and original. His work is striking – the cutouts, typically from white or light-colored paper, are set off by dramatic black backgrounds. The accompanying text outlines the major events in Andersen’s life, from his childhood in a slum of Odense to his later career as a celebrated writer.

Scherenschnitte Tutorials & Templates

If you are interested in learning more about this fascinating and ageless art medium, here is a great tutorial:

Cindy Bean, the artist in the video has also graciously provided numerous templates on her website, Scherenschnitte, that you can download for free to help you get started. Here are a few of our favorites:

Please leave a link in the comments if you have given this art a go yourself.  We love to be inspired by others.

Scandinavia Day Three: Hans Christian Andersen and Tivoli

Not yet adjusted to the 9 hour time difference we all awoke early and had to wait just over an hour before we could go downstairs for frøkost (our breakfast buffet – an elaborate assortment of cheeses, breads and pastries, sliced meats, pickled herring, fresh fruit, waffles, pancakes, sausages, bacon and eggs.  We took our time to assure we had eaten our fill – in hopes of avoiding the need for lunch a few hours later.

At 9:00 a.m., we boarded a tour boat to take in the sites of the city of Copenhagen via the canal.  From the boat, we saw the infamous Little Mermaid sculpture as well as numerous buildings of distinctive architecture.  The canal tour also took us through Christianshavn.

We completed one circuit and then disembarked at Nyhavn, walking the remaining distance to Amalienborg to see the Queen’s palace.  As she was not presently in residence, the Danish flag was not flown.  We opted to not take part in the guided tour nor stay to see the changing of the guard.  Instead, we made our way back through Størget – stopping at the Lego store, of course.  We also managed to stumble upon the Hans Christian Andersen statue .. delight as I had wanted to see it and for some reason was under the impression that it was some distance from the main tourist area.

We then crossed the street and entered Tivoli – the inspiration, I understand, for Disneyland.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the kids more delighted and engaged in the rides – they had so much fun; finishing a ride and running back to the queue to go again … and again.

As evening lingered on, we opted to get some dinner.  This resulted in a bit of discussion – but we ended up choosing _______ .  The service was poor and the food was mediocre.  After two disappointing meals, I became adamant about making better choices.