Hansel & Gretel
Hansel and Gretel
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Neil Gaiman, illus. by Lorenzo Mattotti
ISBN 9781935179627
TOON Graphics, 2014.
5 stars
Keywords: brothers-grimm courage fear hansel-gretel neil-gaiman retellings siblings

Hansel & Gretel
by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Lorenzo Mattotti

Newbery Medal–winner Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book) retells Hansel and Gretel as a story of parents plotting a murder by neglect, with full-spread India ink compositions by Lorenzo Mattotti as dark and terrifying as his forest setting.

Gaiman reaches back to the tale's Grimm roots, at a time when Germany was besieged by war and food was scarce. After hunger pangs wake Hansel in the night, he hears his mother suggest to his woodcutter father that he take their children deep into the forest and "lose them." With four mouths to feed, she suggests, "we'll all die. Without the extra mouths, you and I will have a chance." Mattotti's swirling black brushstrokes leave licks of white flames where the children's father has built a fire for them in the forest, in the upper left corner of one illustration, and readers can just make out the father's axe, eye and hand in the lower right-hand corner as he leaves them to their fate. The artist creates each wordless double-page scene as menacing unexplored territory revealed to readers alongside the two siblings, from their discovery of the old woman's gingerbread house, to the suggestion of Hansel's cage, to the oven swallowing their captor like a hungry mouth.

Gaiman's text is a study in minimalism ("The old woman is dead," Gretel tells her brother, "I killed her"), yet he includes every salient detail--the father's reluctance to lose his children, the siblings' resourcefulness and bravery in breaking free, and the happy reunion when they return. A perfectly frightful treat.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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