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?