Fear. Anguish. Survival.
Imagine hearing your own mother tell your father, “Early in the morning, take the two children, give them what little bread we have, and lead them to the forest. Build a fire for them, and while it is burning, go away and leave them alone.” In the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel Retold by Rika Lesser illustrated by Caldecott Honor medalist Paul O’Zelinsky, this is exactly what happened. The father did not want to do this, but the mother would not stop nagging him until he agreed.
Paul O’Zelinsky’s illustrations were rich with detail. He used a modified Renaissance painting technique. He used watercolors, on watercolor paper, to paint an underpainting all in grays and browns. This process is called, “grisaille.” Then he sealed the paper so he could paint on top of it with oils, transparently. www.paulozelinsky.com/paul-faq.php The illustrations had a lot of dark colors to set the mood and tone, but I also noticed a lot of light which signified hope for the children. As Hansel was gathering stones, there was a full moon for him to see. As they are left for the first time by the fire, the sun is setting. When they are coming out of the forest and returning home, they are running in the direction of the rising sun. Even as they encounter the witch there is a lot of light and bright colors.
O’Zelinsky was able to make me have sympathy for the dad. Somehow I felt like it was entirely the mother’s fault. While the reality is that it was a decision and plan that was carried out by both of them. On the first page the dad is portrayed as a hardworking wood cutter who feels terrible that he can’t provide for his family. The dad’s head is down, the mom is looking on scornfully, and the children look concerned. As the parents are walking their children out into the woods, the dad’s head is tilted down and he looks distressed. The mother is peering over her shoulder with a stern look on her face, yet it looks like she is walking proudly, like she has had her way.
I thought the end had an interesting twist. It was clear in the beginning that the dad did not want to abandon his children. The mother told the dad what to do but it didn’t sound like she was going to participate and she did. The father was overjoyed that his children had found their way home the first time. However, in the end, it doesn’t say how the mother died. Did she die of starvation? Or did the dad have something to do with her disappearance?