Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hansel and Gretel by Cynthia Rylant Pictures by Jen Corace

Deep, dark and dreary.  This tale is not one that leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling.  Hansel and Gretel is a German tale told by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 1800’s.  Fairy tales were based on an oral tradition and passed down from one generation to the next.  Over the years, adjustments were made to the story by the storyteller to fit the time period and audience.  As I read this, I couldn’t help but wonder why such a tale was told in the first place.  As I continued to research, I learned that this could be common practice during the middle ages.  There were many disasters such as famine, war, and the plague which caused people to abandon their children.
Corrace uses the hue, tone and saturation to set the mood on the cover of the book. She uses dark greens and browns with a little yellow and red throughout the book.  There are also many noticeable lines that make us focus our attention on certain aspects.  For example, in the beginning of the story the children are running past the stepmother toward the house.  The stepmother appears very large and close to the reader.  I noticed the lines in the background and she was in the forefront of the illustration.
The version that Cynthia Rylant shares is poetic at times.  She begins her version much like an oral version.  It has been said that spirits watch over and protect small children, and that may be so.  But there are also stories of children who find the courage to protect themselves.  Such is a story of Hansel and Gretel.”  From this opening I found myself rooting for and cheering for the children.  I wanted to focus my attention on the parents and how awful they were, but I couldn’t.  Rylant and Corrace do an amazing job of capturing your emotions for the children.
After the parents decide to abandon the children, Corrace sets the stage with a full bleed illustration of the family home in the evening.  It is getting dark but one can feel the horrific events that are about to occur.  Rylant sets the reader up by saying, “There are many forms of wickedness in the world.  Sometimes it is easy to recognize who is evil. Sometimes it is not easy at all.  Wickedness can wear a smile just as goodness can.  Hansel and Gretel would soon learn this hard lesson.”
I was impressed by this work with regards to the depth of the story and impact it could have emotionally on children.  Rylant conveys the message throughout that the children will make it.  “We will be all right,” said Hansel.  “Take courage.”  That is exactly what they both do.  There are nice full bleed illustrations when the reader knows they are safe, but when there is danger and fear, the illustrations are framed.  This allows the reader to distance themselves from the events. 
This is a well crafted book.  I must admit that I honestly tried to have a better understanding and appreciation for the people who would give their children up because of the circumstances that they faced at that time.


  1. I am surprised to read that abandonment of children was common during different time periods. It is always interesting to find out the true meaning behind literature and how it originated. I am now curious what the Chinese version of Hansel and Gretel may be because I think there is some truth to abandonment of children in more recent times due to certain regulations. I found that there is a Chinese version entitled, "Yi Min and Kai Wai," and oddly enough I am only able to find it as a leveled reader in a McGraw Hill program.

  2. Wow! So much history with this story! I'm so fasinated by the various versions. What was the purpose, I wonder, of the story line? Is there a moral to the story beyond "love, willpower, and determination?" Interesting!