Ms. Fonteyn was one of the world’s most famous and gifted prima ballerinas. Such talents don’t necessarily translate to writing a children’s book.
While she keeps the story of the ballet simple, there are awkward moments as if she couldn’t find a way to keep a line interesting and informative. Surely there are more exciting ways of conveying the terror of ballroom guests who find an evil magician in their midst than writing: “In panic the guests ran this way and that.” She is often scant on description, too, without bothering to fill in details about a dark forest at moonlight or the inside of a castle teeming with excited partygoers.
But what the book lacks in narrative is more than compensated for by Ms. Hyman’s sumptuous illustrations. Grounding her characters in the realism that commonly informs her work, her swan maidens aren’t impossibly dainty ladies in toe shoes but disheveled, frightened girls running about barefoot in the forest. Siegfried himself is first seen enjoying herself amidst the revelry of villagers, flirtatious minstrels, dancing maidens and people consuming food and wine. Then Ms. Hyman shows the Princess and her ladies-in-waiting leaving in a huff after the prince angers his mother; there is no missing the somberness of Siegfried and his guests after his mother crashes the party.
Little illustrations at the bottoms and tops of various pages provide their own details to the ongoing story as well as different sights of the mysterious lake. If you’re a fan of Ms. Hyman’s body of work, this slim picture book is a keeper.