Wild Swans

by Xanthe Gresham (Author) Charlotte Gastaut (Illustrator)

Wild Swans
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

Young Eliza and her eleven brothers' lives are transformed when a plague ravages the Kingdom of the North and kills their mother, the Queen.

When their father remarries, their brilliant and "unusual" new stepmother becomes obsessed with finding a cure for the plague and protecting her new family - so obsessed that she decides to turn the boys into swans so they can fly away from the plague, and to send Eliza to a far-away village the plague hasn't touched.

Years later, the Queen discovers a cure for the plague just before she dies from it herself. With the kingdom in chaos, it's up to teenaged Eliza to find her brothers, break the Queen's spell on them, return home to cure the plague - and claim her rightful place in the kingdom! 

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review

An orphaned princess must free her brothers from a magic spell in this striking adaptation of the classic Grimm fairy tale. Princess Eliza and her 11 brothers live a sheltered life in the court of their widower father, the King of the North. When he remarries, his wife is not an evil witch but rather a healer who spends her time trying to dispel a deadly plague that threatens the kingdom. The spell transforming the princes into swans is not a curse; rather, it saves them from death while also enabling them to see the world and mature into insightful rulers. When their parents expire from the plague, Eliza must restore her brothers to human form. With its insightfully altered storyline and eye-popping illustrations, this latest, lush collaboration by Knight and Gastaut (Thumbelina, 2016, etc.) is an adaptation triumph that brings new depth to its subject matter while also maintaining its integrity and sense of magic. Gastaut’s art is reminiscent of an antique Chinese screen come to life. Every detail, from the piercing blue of the night sky to the redness of Eliza’s overworked hands, is utterly breathtaking. The tale’s focus on friendship rather than marriage transforms Eliza from a caricature of female sacrifice into a nuanced and empathetic three-dimensional character whose struggles demonstrate the depths of her love and compassion. The characters all appear to be white. A must-have for all fairy-tale lovers. (Fiction. 5-10)

Copyright 2018 Kirkus Reviews, LLC Used with permission.


Grades 3-6. This retelling of Andersen’s classic tale has a more modern perspective, while Gastaut’s ornate, gold-flecked folk-art-style illustrations hearken back to a fairy tale atmosphere. Eliza, a king’s youngest child, has 11 older brothers. After the death of his wife from a mysterious disease, the king marries a learned healer who is working on curing the dreaded illness. The stepmother turns the brothers into swans not out of cruelty but to protect them from the plague. Little Eliza is sent to an isolated village, while the stepmother and the king work to save their subjects. Years later, Eliza takes the dangerous mission to reverse the spell and change her brothers back. In the original story, Eliza marries a king who finds her in the forest, but here she returns to rule her own land. The book is shaped like a beginning reader, but the small font size, vocabulary, and story structure make it better suited for somewhat higher-level readers, especially fans of the Frozen and Swan Princess animated films.

Copyright 2018 Booklist, LLC Used with permission.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
March 20, 2018
Age Range
7 - 9 years
School Library Connection, 05/01/18
None None

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