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Review: Hansel & Gretel

A new spin on an old story. In 2007 Lorenzo Mattotti created the illustrations for this book as part of an exhibition curated by Toon Books’ Francoise Mouly in honor of the Metroplitan Opera’s debut of Hansl and Gretl. Neil Gaiman, inspired by the illustrations, wrote down his version of the story.

Hansel & Gretel
Retold by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti
53 pp. Toon Books. hc. $16.95 ISBN 9781935179627
Recommended for ages 8 & up

While the Disney versions of fairy tales have made it seem like they are for very young children, most readers will agree that many of the original fairy tales are dark and morbid tales. This retelling of Hansel & Gretel is a dark tale that isn’t for very young readers. This is about pain, hunger, and child abandonment.

Though all fairy tales, including Hansel & Gretel, have had many versions, this retelling doesn’t vary much from all the other versions. But Gaiman’s prose and Mattoti’s dark illustrations give this a very dark feel.

This isn’t actually a comic. Instead, it’s an illustrated book: A two-page spread of prose is followed by a two-page spread of Mattotti’s stark pictures. Black and white abstract drawings are drawn with black ink. The swirls and whirls of the page seem to indicate a world gone mad. Yet the gentle layout of the prose, with a thin frame and flourishes at the corner, offsets the swirling emotion of the illustrations.

This literary retelling of the story will intrigue readers. Readers can either run through the story thinking it’s familiar, or they will carefully read the words and peruse the pictures.

This book is worth picking up for a pleasure read, but teachers can find make many connections in the classroom. A lesson plan is available on the webpage. And while ordinarily, I wouldn’t think of a fairy tale as a scary read for “Halloween” this could work!

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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