My Introduction to Cornelia Funke

On a recent trip to the library, my daughter informed me that she does not like mystery books (at my suggestion that she try a Nancy Drew book) and that she did not like historical fiction (except for the “Laura” books), but that her new passion was fantasy.  This new love of fantasy stems from recently reading the first three Harry Potter books with her dad.

So, we began hunting through the children’s chapter books for those with the fantasy sticker on the spine.  This is what it looks like.

fantasy sticker library book

We loaded our bag full of several and discovered one particular gem among the stack.  Over the last few weeks, I have been reading to her from Cornelia Funke’s Igraine the Brave (1998), an adventure novel full of fantasy and magic.

Funke is a German author known for her Inkheart trilogy.  While I haven’t read Inkheart, I do recommend Igraine the Brave.  It is my first experience with Funke’s fiction for children, and I am impressed.  My daughter is impressed, too.  She keeps asking if I think they’ll make a movie out of it (probably not) and if there is another book.  When I told her that there wasn’t, she decided that she would write the sequel herself.  The story is inventive, the conflicts and resolutions are perfectly timed, and, although the story involved some level of violence, it is not overly indulgent or vengeful.

igraine cover

Igraine lives in a magical castle with her magical parents and older brother.  She, however, has no interest in magic, and instead wants to be a knight.  The story begins with an unusual birthday present for young Igraine, and her parents have a magical accident that leaves them turned into pigs.  This is a conundrum in itself, but the castle is also threatened by greedy interloper Osmund.  Igraine must act to protect her family and to help her parents find the right magical ingredient to turn themselves back into humans.  She goes on a journey, meets a sorrowful knight who becomes her mentor, and ultimately proves her abilities as a knight and as a loving member of her family.  (Ah, the beloved hero cycle.  It never fails to please.)

It is a sweet story with enough action and imagination to keep any young mind entertained.  I particularly liked some of the feminist ideas portrayed through Igraine’s desire to live a life more traditionally meant for a man in a public capacity.  At one point, the sorrowful knight tells of his duty to protect three ladies, and Igraine immediately responds, “What for?  Couldn’t they protect themselves?”  She cannot conceive of being a female who cannot or does not want to be strong for herself.

And then, when the knight reveals that the ladies were stolen, she replies, “But how could they just let themselves be stolen away like that?”  Situations in which women are “stolen away” are not always cut and dried and not always in the control of the woman, but Igraine shows no fear and understands that it is okay for women to be strong, outspoken, and willing to protect themselves.  For these sentiments, I admire Igraine and her author.

Additionally, this book would appeal to boys and girls alike.  It isn’t overtly feminist, although I did point out one specific scene bent toward that.  Igraine’s brother is a hero of the tale as well, and he acts with bravery and calm in a difficult situation.  The relationship that he and Igraine have is one that all children with siblings will find familiar.

Overall, I recommend this book for anybody with children in grade school.  My Olivia enjoyed the story and identified with its characters.  She especially liked trying to figure out what would happen next, and we often paused to analyze the foreshadowing and to see if we had predicted correctly.  Funke leaves many clues and hints along the way that make this story intricate and intriguing, and she ties up all of the loose ends realistically and skillfully.

Now, should we read Inkheart?  I know it is a popular one.  Have you read it?


38 thoughts on “My Introduction to Cornelia Funke

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  1. I haven’t read Inkheart in a long time, but I really enjoyed it. A lovely book for book lovers, IMO (and I’ve been itching to reread it for a while now.)

  2. I read Cornelia when I was young and LOVED her. Like your daughter, I am not a Nancy Drew fan and the boxcar kids make me cringe. The Inkheart trilogy is one of the nearest and dearest to my heart because it ignited that very same love of fantasy that your daughter has. Even now, I read every adventure I can get my hands on. I don’t know your stance on age appropriate reading but Xanth books by Piers Anthony are awesome, there are subtle sexual references and many, many (almost too many) puns, but I read them before I read Funke and never was the wiser. I have begun re-reading them now and they are still just as amazing!

    1. It sounds like you are well qualified to tell what my daughter would like. 🙂 I’m not so good at that, but we’ll figure it out. Xanth? Never heard of it but I’ll look for it at the library. Thanks!

  3. This story line sounds very similar to the recent Disney flick, “Brave.” Particularly the part about the young lady who behaves in traditionally male roles while having family members turned into animals and having to seek a magical ingredient to turn them back into humans, and thus prove herself as a loving member of her family – wait, that’s what you said.

    I’ll add Cornelia Funke to my list. I still love kids books, myself. Have you read any of the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley? Or The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly? Both excellent reads for young girls (and their moms!)

      1. Igraine came out well before Brave, and there’s also similarities between Brave and Cornelia Funke’s picture book The Princess Knight… it’s very curious. It seems the makers of Brave were “inspired” by Cornelia Funke. I remember thinking they should have given her some credit for the storyline haha

  4. Love this review! And I’m so glad you’ve discovered Cornelia, she is incredible!! I highly, highly recommend Inkheart, it is one of my FAVORITE books, it is truly beautiful! I actually posted an interview with Cornelia on my blog all about fairy tales (as her newest books are based on fairy tales, they are great to although a little more for the later readers, not completely YA but most definitely a bit more mature than Inkheart and Igraine), you and your daughter might enjoy the interview, if you’d like to read it, here’s the link:

    Hope you enjoy more of her books!

  5. Great review. I love that the book includes lines and ideas from the girl protagonist like the one you pointed out, ‘ “At one point, the sorrowful knight tells of his duty to protect three ladies, and Igraine immediately responds, “What for? Couldn’t they protect themselves?”’ My daughter is only five, but so far this sounds like a story she would love to hear. She does love Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess after all. This book will be on my goodreads to-read list for sure. Thank you – Ilene

  6. Ah, I have been meaning to read Cornelia Funke for a while. We have Inkheart here but haven’t delved into it yet. Holly prefers mysteries and adventures, but she might be tempted. Igraine the Brave sounds like an excellent book, and one that antidotes many of the traditional damsel in distress stories. We’ll have to check it out, so thank you for sharing this review!

  7. Great review. I love Cornelia Funke myself. If you get a chance, you should check out her other books too. The Inkheart trilogy is excellent, of course, but The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider, Ghost Knight, and When Santa Fell to Earth are wonderful reads also. Her recent novel Reckless is probably too old for your daughter, but I would recommend it as an incredible adult fantasy novel if you’re interested.

  8. I’m not one to hide that I’m not well read – but I do love children’s books! In fact, my husband always teases me that I prefer children’s books to adult novels. With that said, I can say that I HAVE read the Inkheart trilogy and I truly enjoyed it. It’s a really inventive/creative fantasy with suspense that is quite griping (I imagine it would be even more intense for a child). There were times when I read something that seemed a bit contrived – although I can’t quite put my finger on a real criticism. All in all, I liked the books and would highly recommend them.

    1. I think contrived is a good “criticism” word, and probably true of all fantasy! I am glad to hear that you’ve read the trilogy, and I think Olivia and I will definitely try them. I hope you are well!

  9. Awesome review! I really liked Inkheart and bought Kein Keks für Kobolde on the original in German (I’m hoping with a year or more of studying I’ll be able to read it). She is such a sweet writer and her characters grow on our hearts so fast that I believe they are still my friends until today!

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