The golden cage by Anna Castagnoli

cover image

Illus. by Carll Cneut. Book Island, 2020. ISBN: 9781911496144. 56pp.
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. European fairy tale, The golden cage, is a captivatingly dark story of a selfish princess, spoiled and indulged, illustrated in the most amazing of painterly drawings, full of detail to entrance the eye. Valentina has a sumptuous garden which she fills with cages displaying unique and exotic birds. To fill her cages she sends her long suffering servants across the known world to bring back something absolutely peerless for her cages. A servant failing in his duty has his head chopped off, so it is paramount that they search high and low. Sometimes they are able to fudge the edges, so when she wants a coral beaked bird, they find her one that has a red beak, but in the main when she dreams up another unknown bird they must try and find it for her. But now she wants a talking bird, to put in her golden cage, not a parrot that recites but a bird that will converse with her. One month she cuts the heads off 100 servants when they fail her. She is the blood princess.
She finds she is running out of servants and getting new ones is proving to be costly. She begins to sell her hundreds of pairs of shoes and multi crocodile belts and even some of the rare birds. A servant comes to her suggesting that he will find a talking bird for her but she must be patient and he makes her give him several promises.
The end of this unusual tale of obsession comes quickly as the princess waits, bereft of her possessions, in a garden devoid of the grandeur it once had. The end piece tells the reader that there may be several different endings, impelling the reader to perhaps suggest one for themselves.
This wonderful large format picture book would be a delight to share and discuss with classes, evoking the horror of some nineteenth century tales.
The painterly illustrations are intense, taking up the large pages, full of interest and variety, the eye often drawn to the princess, so obsessed with her idea of perfection, living in a cage of her own making. Many parallels could be drawn by readers about obsession or the accumulation of material  possessions or how power is misused.
Book Island's mission is to make stunning world class picture books available to English-speaking readers.
This internationally-acclaimed example of European literature has won numerous prestigious awards, including the Flemish Culture Prize and White Ravens Award, and was also nominated for the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis. It deserves a place in every library to be read and reread, discussed, pondered and pored over. Themes; Fairy tale, Birds, Obsession, Selfishness.
Fran Knight