FABULOUS FIVE: Bethan Woollvin presents picturebooks with fearless girls
Hansel and Gretel (Two Hoots), the third fractured fairy tale retelling from Bethan Woollvin, takes readers to the woods once more where they come across Willow, a kind and gentle witch who lives alone in her Gingerbread House. Willow is the heroine of this story, rather than the eponymous siblings, a popular motif of twisted fairy tales. When Willow finds breadcrumbs on the ground, she follows them to find Hansel and Gretel, who are seemingly lost in the woods. Hansel and Gretel are neither pleasant nor grateful. In fact their attitude goes from bad to worse, despite Willow’s kindness and exemplary hosting. When pesky Hansel and Gretel take it too far, they finally get their comeuppance, with hilarious yet cautionary (it is a fairy tale after all!) consequences.
Similarly to its predecessors Little Red and Rapunzel, Bethan Woollvin uses a limited palette of gouache paint colours ( grey, black and orange) to create her signature bold, vibrant illustrations. Lots of negative space balance the thick lines and brushstrokes of the artwork, working wonderfully together. The dry, subversive humour is spot on, perfect for a fractured fairy tale where traditional conventions are always ignored or manipulated, leading readers to different, or often surprising, conclusions about the characters of the book.
Hansel & Gretel, just like Little Red and Rapunzel, reimages female fairy tale characters as brazen, fearless and in control. The feminist rhetoric here is not so much about demythicizing girls as being meek and weak, but rather about demythicizing their supposed wickedness. It is deliciously dark and clever and a real treat.
I am delighted to welcome Bethan to Library Mice to talk about more fearless girls in picturebooks!
“Five fabulous picturebooks
about fearless girls”
by Bethan Woollvin
For those of you that don’t know, I’m from a big family. 5 sisters, 4 brothers, and I’m the oldest. My youngest sister Freya, is at prime picture book age, and we love nothing more than to explore the adventures sandwiched between pages, just around bedtime. Being the (sort of) grown up sister I am, I no longer live at home…but when I do visit home I always bring with me a new selection of tales to share with Freya.
Freya is a fitting name, she’s fearless, feisty and I’m pretty sure she’ll grow up to become some sort of warrior goddess too. So it’s safe to say that we rarely read stories about helpless princesses out of fear that our eyes might just roll a bit too much and fall out. We read all sorts of stories, and of course her copies of Little Red, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel are well read. But aside from my feisty fairytale femmes, we like to read stories that inspire us, empower us and of course fist punch the air and/or spontaneously cartwheel.
And with that, I present our list of ‘Five Fearless Books’ that we’re loving right now.
The Secret of Black Rock
Joe Todd-Stanton is one of my favourite illustrators, and I’ve been admiring his incredible illustrations ever since I picked up a copy of Arthur and the Golden Rope a while back. Freya and I adore The Secret of Black Rock, it’s one of those books that due to the vast detail in the illustrations, you notice new things each time you read it! This book has a lot more story to it than the average picture book – it almost feels like a graphic novel – and so it takes a little longer to read. But Freya loves this because longer story = later bedtime. The Secret of Black Rock features a fearless female lead named Erin, who is curious and loves to explore. But she defies her mothers warnings of what is beyond the shore, and ends up learning the secrets of a certain rocky legend to be true! We totally loved Erin, who is a well written character with a passion for adventure. But please note, after reading this story *SOME* children might develop a habit of keeping pet rocks.
Ossiri and the Bala Mengro
Richard O’Neill , Katharine Quarmby (text) & Hannah Tolson (artwork)
I actually first became aware of this gorgeous book at the Little Rebels Award in 2017, as it was shortlisted for the prize alongside Little Red. I instantly fell in love with the book, which offers us a truly beautiful insight of Romani culture and folklore, and a satisfying folktale about Ossiri, a young traveller girl from the ‘Tattin’ Folki’ community. This story follows Ossiri who has a passion for music, and uses her tinkering skills to create her very own instrument. Sadly, this instrument sounds terrible – which I can relate to after hearing Freya play the recorder – and so Ossiri seeks out somewhere far away from the ears of her family to practice her new instrument. But her music awakens the Bala Mengro, a fearsome ogre! I won’t spoil the ending, but I found this story charming and satisfying from start to finish. Ossiri is creative, headstrong and inventive, a brilliant female role model for all ages. It gets the seal of approval from us!
Daniel Gray-Barnett is probably THE favourite illustrator on my radar right now, I mean just LOOK at the cover for Grandma Z. What a beauty. I recently picked up this book in Waterstones and I wasn’t disappointed, though I found myself captured by the dreamy blue and orange colour palette, wishing that I could frame every single illustration. This extraordinary book begins with Albert. It’s Albert’s birthday, and he is visited by super-cool Grandma Z, who is keen to give him a birthday he’ll never forget. Grandma Z is fun, full of life and of course rides a motorbike – very swarve. Freya and I thoroughly enjoyed Grandma Z, and thought that Albert was very lucky to have such a kooky granny to take him on wild adventures. After reading this book, you’ll feel full of life, and want to live every day to your fullest. If only ALL grandmas were this cool.
Okay, so I know this one’s been published a while now, but it’s still very much loved by Freya and I. It’s the one book we ALWAYS go back to. It’s been in my top five children’s books for a really long time, and I’m not sure thats’ going to change any time soon! The protagonist in this story is a strong, slightly stubborn, but mostly fearless little girl. She was raised by nature and is in every sense of the word, wild – and that’s just how she likes it. But that all changes when she comes face to face with some very odd creatures who try to tame her wild. This tale is charming, and thoroughly enjoyable for young and old. I had initially brought this book for Freya as her nickname within the family is ‘wild beast’ (for good reason) and we told her that the book was about her. And for that reason, I think Freya has always had a really strong relationship with this book, I’ve lost count how many times we’ve read it together! There are moments during the story that Freya finds very relatable, especially when the little girl is having her wild hair brushed and tamed by the humans. You can feel the pain of the comb going through her matted hair, and I think Freya knows that feeling all too well! With every page turn the delicate and detailed illustrations will evoke your emotions and warm your heart. A perfect book for fiery children, reminding us that there’s a little bit of wild in everyone.
Out, Out, Away From Here
Rachel Woodward (text) & Sang Miao (artwork)
Only recently published, this wonderful little gem is waiting in a stack of stories for me to share with Freya. BUT…I’ve read it and I love it, and I know Freya will too. This book is quite literally a rollercoaster of emotions, exploring the ups and downs of our feelings some of which are unexplainable and raw. Cleverly narrated, we are guided through the vividly imaginative story which features a young girl who is struggling to understand her emotions when faced with stressful situations at home. At particular parts in the book, I definitely felt nostalgic about the feelings communicated through the story, especially conquering the mountain of homework, messy rooms, and uneaten boiled baby carrots! Out, Out, Away From Here has strong parallels with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, as our protagonist finds her way home after exploring distant places to help her deal with her emotions. And of course, when she arrives home she finds her family waiting for her with some rather tasty looking dinner. This fiery young lady teaches us the importance of expressing our emotions and learning how to deal with them, all while feeling comfortable in your own skin.
Thank you so much Bethan, what a great selection!
Hansel and Gretel is out now and you can purchase a copy here.
Book kindly supplied for review