Hans Christian Andersen was born into poverty in Odense, Denmark in 1805. His father was a cobbler and his mother a washerwoman. After his father's death when the boy was 11, Hans tried a variety of jobs. Finally, at age 14, he moved to Copenhagen where he attempted to make a living in the theatre.
While not successful in the theatre, Hans' accomplishments resulted in his schooling being paid for, no small thing since his education had been greatly neglected. In 1828, he was admitted to Copenhagen University. As a result of a royal literary scholarship, Andersen was able to travel widely throughout Europe.
His first booklet of fairy tales, Fairy Tales, told for children was published in 1835 and contained four stories: "The Tinderbox," "Little Claus and Big Claus," "The Princess and the Pea," and "Little Ida's Flowers." Among his many other publications, Andersen went on to publish over 150 fairy tales and stories before he died in 1875.
Part of the charm of Andersen's tales lies in his ability to appeal to, and portray, human emotions in ordinary language. According to Andersen, "I wanted the style to be such that the reader felt the presence of the storyteller; therefore the spoken language had to be used. I wrote the stories for children, but older people ought to find them worth listening to."
Good did not triumph in all of his tales. Many of Andersen's tales reflected his pessimism and his feelings of being an outsider. Despite his celebrity in other countries, Andersen faced his sharpest critics in Denmark. His humble beginnings and difficult childhood seem to have prevented him from feeling accepted in society.
If you are interested in studying Andersen's fairy tales, you will find Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, translated from the Danish by Erik Christian Haugaard, to be an excellent resource. Haugaard is a bilingual Danish author. His education took place in both Denmark and the United States. In order to ensure accuracy, Haugaard chose to follow the text and order of the stories as they were in the 1874 Danish edition, which Hans Christian Andersen edited. A thoughtful foreword by Virginia Haviland of the Library of Congress and Andersen's own "Notes for My Fairy Tales and Stories" provide insights as to the inspiration for some of the tales.
There are a number of Andersen's fairy tales available in picture book format. I particularly recommend The Ugly Duckling and The Little Match Girl versions adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. The watercolor illustrations are wonderful. Both were published in 1999, and The Ugly Duckling was designated a Caldecott Honor Book for the quality of its illustrations. Pinkney's The Little Match Girl is set in a prosperous city in the early twentieth century. A more traditional setting can be found in the version nicely illustrated by Rachel Isadora. These are only a few of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales available as picture books. If you have a particular Andersen fairy tale picture book you'd like to recommend, please post it on the About Children's books Forum.