Off the Shelf: Hansel and Gretel

I was in a part of San Diego that I wasn’t too familiar with, and I needed to visit the bank. Google Maps said that there was a branch of my bank in the strip mall right across the street from where I was, so I made a U-turn and slid into an extremely crowded parking lot. After circling for about five minutes and nearly loosing my rear-view mirrors several times, I concluded that Google Maps was wrong. Even though I didn’t find the bank, I found a secondhand bookstore.

“I’ll just peek in real quick,” I told myself. A half an hour later, I’d completely cleaned out the children’s picture book section — which was pretty extensive — of anything interesting.

One of my finds was a copy of “Hansel and Gretel” with illustrations by Susan Jeffers. The text is taken from Edgar Lucas’ 1902 translation of “Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.”

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It’s not often that you see an entire book dedicated to Hansel and Gretel because it’s not exactly on the fairy tale A list. I’m not quite sure what it’s supposed to teach kids. Don’t trust your parents to look out for you? All stepmothers are evil? Greedy kids who eat other people’s candies will be punished?

Not sure.

But I was totally taken with these illustrations!

I love how the author uses little white circles (representing pebbles?) to tie all the images together.

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See the cat looking you in the eye from the bottom right-hand corner? Jeffers seems to favor this for some reason.

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See? Here’s another animal stare-down. I love how H&G are nervously grasping for each others’ hands here.

In this next one, birds also feature prominently, although none of them are looking directly out off the page — except maybe for the red one on the lower right side.

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Here are H&G following the pebbles through the forest back to their house.

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A larger view of the two-page spread:

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Breathtaking, huh?

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It seems like nature-oriented images are Jeffers’ specialty. Her human faces aren’t quite as compelling, even though I must say that I love the look on the step-mother’s face here. Can she be any more obvious?

Here is the witch’s irresistible candy house. Maybe the moral is supposed to be “If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is…”??

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The witch appears nice at first.

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But then things go terribly wrong.

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If you remember, she banishes Hansel to solitary confinement, determined to fatten him up so she can eat him. Terrifying! And what’s worse, Gretel has to cook and serve the “fatten-up” food to her brother. And if you think that’s morbid, Gretel resorts to murdering the witch out of self-defense.

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Clever Gretel tricks the witch into sticking her head in the oven and then pushes her all the way in and bolts the door. A pretty impressive feat for a starving waif.

Regardless, both Hansel and Gretel show resourcefulness and a refusal to submit to the adults’ plans, Hansel with the pebbles and breadcrumbs and Gretel with her first-degree murder. So, maybe the moral is to have your wits about you…?

Anyhow, H&G actually find gold and precious gems in the witch’s house, and they pocket as much of the treasure as they can and then escape home to Dad. The evil step-mother conveniently dies before their return.

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It’s a good thing they’re rich because they are going to have to pay for a lot of therapy.

(See the kitty staring at you from Father’s lap?)

QUESTION OF THE DAY

What do you think the moral of the story is?

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