Hansel & Gretel

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Hansel & Gretel Book Poster Image
Retelling of familiar tale has exquisite art, rich prose.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Hansel & Gretel is a straightforward retelling of one of the most popular stories collected by the Brothers Grimm. This edition's afterword traces the origins of the tale and its variations across the centuries.

Positive Messages

Hansel & Gretel emphasizes the importance of bravery and fortitude in the face of adversity. The children must figure out how to save themselves from tragedy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Knowing that they cannot depend on their father or mother, Hansel and Gretel rely on each other to survive their abandonment. Hansel has the foresight to mark their path with white stones. Gretel knows how to deal with the child-eating old woman.

Violence & Scariness

Gretel pushes the evil old woman into a lighted oven. The illustration of the scene is not likely to frighten most young readers.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this picture-book edition of Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book, Coraline) does not stray far from the familiar story but adds some interesting literary flourishes and captivating black-and-white illustrations by Lorenzo Mattotti. The children's mother actively plans to abandon them. Their woodcutter father is more conflicted, but he's too cowardly to stand up to his wife. The evil old woman with the gingerbread house is scary but not excessively so. 

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What's the story?

The children of a woodcutter and his wife, Hansel and Gretel have a good life until war and famine undermine the family's hope for survival. Their mother orders their father to abandon them in the forest. After he reluctantly agrees, the children find their way home. The next time, though, Hansel and Gretel find themselves truly lost -- until they stumble upon a gingerbread house with a spooky tenant.

Is it any good?

In most ways, HANSEL & GRETEL is a straightforward retelling of the Grimms' fairy tale, but writer Neil Gaiman and illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti add their own special touches to the project. Gaiman's prose is exact and graceful, adding new details that provide psychological perspective. The india-ink illustrations emphasize the darkness of the tale, rendering every element in shadow and silhouette, but never obscuring the action. The oversize Deluxe edition is especially beautiful, a worthy addition to any child's home library.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why fairy tales such as Hansel & Gretel endure across the centuries. What characteristics do these tales possess that allow them to be retold in so many ways?

  • How do people behave in the face of disasters such as war and famine? Can adversity change their beliefs and morals?

  • Why have old woman been suspected of being witches throughout history

Book details

Themes & Topics

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