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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
The Golden Cage
by Anna Castagnoli
Age Range: 6-8
Valentina, the emperor’s daughter, is a spoilt princess – moody, forthright and single-minded. In fact she’s a nightmare. Valentina has everything her heart desires, including three hundred and ninety pairs of shoes, eight hundred and twelve hats and fifty snakeskin belts, but this doesn’t make her happy. Although she likes the things she owns Valentina has a passion for exotic birds. With one hundred and one bird cages in her garden, she obsessively collects the most beautiful and magnificent species from all over the world. When she can’t get what she wants though, her frustration is taken out on her servants who meet a particularly sticky end when they fail.
Valentina has one cage empty, a beautiful golden cage that she wants to fill with an amazing bird, one that can talk. Her servants travel far and wide in search of this impossible request. In Valentina’s palace, heads roll every day! Will her golden cage ever be filled?
Published first in Dutch in 2014 and in Italian in 2015, this oversized elaborate picture book is a decidedly dark European fairy story by French- Italian author/illustrator Anna Castagnoli, translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson.
The rich, bold artwork by Carll Cneut, one of Flanders’ most celebrated illustrators, is what makes this unusual story work. Cneut manages to show a spoiled and cruel princess, emphasised by the rhythmic ‘chop’, ‘chop’, ‘chop’ repeated in differing sizes of handwriting throughout the text indicating the unsavoury decapitations that are taking place, but his illustrations also convey the underlying message of the story, namely that Valentina has to learn patience and love while she waits for the egg she has been given to hatch. She’s depicted as a somewhat lonely figure, devoid of parental love and trying to find happiness through the things she owns. Each page of Cneut’s artwork takes your breath away with its vibrancy, incredible detail and haunting imagery.
The Golden Cage or the true story of the blood princess is perhaps not for the faint-hearted; the story is reminiscent of the European tradition of Grimm’s or Perrault fairy tales so maybe more suitable to a slightly older audience.