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The Storybarn selects… from The Reader Bookshelf

Written by Maisie Jeynes, 25th January 2023

As we continue to explore the Reader Bookshelf we've asked members of our Children & Young People Team to talk about their favourite children's books from the collection.

This week, Storybarn Coordinator Roxanne Vella, shares her thoughts on The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen.



Our first Light and Dark Bookshelf Spotlight of the year is on the most traditional of all our choices, The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen. A traditional tale told in many languages even before the famous storyteller adapted it for himself, the fable has been rewritten, modernised and even turned into a Disney animation - so why does it hold such lasting appeal?

The story is of an Emperor who is very vain, and fritters away his fortune on his wardrobe - ignoring his subjects and his army in favour of hourly costume changes. One day, two weavers approach his palace and offer to make him the most beautiful set of clothes imaginable - clothes with special powers - so that if someone looks at them and is 'unfit for their position' or is a fool, the clothes will be invisible.

The Emperor is excited to have these clothes made, and the weavers order fabric and thread to create them - but no one can see the garments on the looms. The Emperor and his court are too embarrassed to be revealed as foolish or unfit for their jobs, so they all exclaim the outfit is the most amazing they have ever seen!

At the end of Andersen's version of the story, a little child cries out that the Emperor is not wearing anything at all; at which point the child's father encourages the crowd to "Listen to the voice of innocence" and the people all admit they too cannot see the clothes. I love the idea of adults being forced to listen to children, and of that voice of innocence stepping out of the shadows and into the light to declare an obvious truth!

Even after the people chant their agreement with the child, the Emperor and his court refuse to admit they have been tricked and continue to parade and pretend the clothes are magical garments only seen by the wisest amongst them.

The Emperor remains in the dark - he cannot admit his mistakes and accept that he was wrong. I think there are probably a lot of times we might look back and see ourselves as the Emperor - determined to be right, or seen to be right, despite the evidence - and we should all take time to listen to our own innocent inner-child, stepping into the light to tell us the truth!

Words by Roxanne Vella

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