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The Song of Delphine
Written & Illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, ages 5-8)
✭Starred review – Booklist
A gentle tale of healing, friendship, and forgiveness, Kenneth Kraegel’s The Song of Delphine unfolds an orphan girl’s journey from pain to peace.
The story begins “[i]n the far reaches of the wild savannah” where “the palace of the great queen Theodora” stands. Against this backdrop of grandeur, lives little Delphine, a servant girl faithful to her daily chores but deeply saddened by loneliness. As she sings by the arched frames of the palace windows “to let some of the loneliness out,” she finds solace. When a niece of Queen Theodora comes to stay at the palace, Delphine naturally reacts with excitement, hopeful she may forge a friendship. Princess Beatrice, however, proves to be anything but a friend, deliberately sabotaging Delphine’s hard work on a daily basis. The princess even breaks a centuries-old mirror and threatens to put the blame on Delphine. That night alone in her room, a hopeless Delphine sings her most soulful song yet.
Then something incredible happens (my favorite part of the book). Friends pop their heads through her bedroom windows, friends who have been listening to her songs all along, at nearly every page turn from the beginning of the story. They pick Delphine up and take her “out into the wild night air.” The double page spread (pages 18-19) that follows gracefully illustrates her healing. A full moon, stars shining in a dark sky, animals gathering at the watering hole, distant mountains sheltering the open grounds, the acacia trees-in times of sorrow, we find comfort in the simple rhythm of everyday life and in knowing that in the depths of despair, we are never alone.
But before the night is over, doom seems certain once more for the terrified servant girl when Delphine’s friends mistakenly return her to Princess Beatrice’s room. Princess Beatrice calls the guards and threatens to tell the queen of Delphine’s transgression. Noticing a picture of the princess’s late mother on the night stand, Delphine realizes they do have one painful fact in common. Delphine shares her song with Beatrice who is so moved by the servant’s voice she asks Delphine for forgiveness and convinces Queen Theodora to promote Delphine to a new position, the queen’s singer.
The seeming simplicity of the illustrations (done in watercolor and ink) and the quiet strength of the main character merge to show us the majesty of kindness, a powerful virtue that can transform pain into beauty. This theme is what I love most about The Song of Delphine.
– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian