He was born on this day in 1805 to a poor family. His father, a shoemaker, died when Hans was 11 years old. When he was just 14, Hans left his hometown of Odense, Denmark and traveled to Copenhagen where he became a starving actor, singer, and dancer. It was there that he met the man who became his lifelong friend and benefactor, Jonas Collin. With Collin’s help, Andersen received a royal scholarship and completed his education.
By his 25th birthday, Hans was on his way to a writing career that would make him one of the most widely-read authors in the world. His first recognition came for his many plays and novels. Five years later, he penned his first of 168 fairy tales.
Among them are The Tinder-Box, Little Claus and Big Claus; tales that made fun of human faults: The Emperor’s New Suit, The Princess and the Pea; tales based on his life: The Ugly Duckling, She was Good for Nothing, and The Snow Queen, The Red Shoes, The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Marsh King’s Daughter.
As Andersen’s popularity rose in the 1840s, he found himself rubbing shoulders with kings and queens, famous composers, poets and novelists. He became wealthy enough to visit throughout Europe, writing about his experiences as he traveled. In Sweden is often considered his best travel book.
He wrote his own story in 1855, The Fairy Tale of My Life. Hans Christian Andersen died a lonely man on August 4, 1875, but his stories and fairy tales live on, entertaining children and adults.
The Hans Christian Andersen Award is presented every other year to an author and an illustrator of children’s books. The ‘Little Nobel Prize’, as it is often called, is the highest international recognition bestowed on an author (since 1956) and to an illustrator (since 1966). It is presented by the International Board on Books for Young People.