Michael Morpurgo (text) & Emma Chichester Clark (illustrations)
(Walker Books)

This beautiful version of Hansel and Gretel is retold by former Children’s Laureate and award-winning author Michael Morpurgo and he has certainly put his stamp on this traditional tale. Here, he weaves a story based on courage, hope, survival undying love, and battling envy and cruelty. He brings a refreshing twist to the tale, keeping many of its traditional features but also adding a new edge to it. The witch has a hand in the development in the story from the very start, being responsible for the mother’s disappearance, then the famine that she consequently uses as an excuse to get rid of Hansel and Gretel. Interestingly also, the father has a much more proactive role in trying to save the children, even though he cannot refuse to help his new wife. This version of Hansel and Gretel is very much about the children making it on their own, without the help of adults: they find their way out of the forest, they find a way to trick the witch, they find a way to get rid of her. It is the triumph of their courage, determination and sticking together, against all odds.

Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. What I found most striking throughout the book is the attention to detail in the patterns, as throughout the story Emma Chichester Clark has drawn the most amazing Balkan patterns: on clothes, on tablecloths, on the gingerbread house. I find them beautiful, and they very much give a sense of place to the story. I also love the use of colours in the spreads – alternative bright and dark colour echo the moods of the story, with cheery colours used for happy family scenes and dark colours used when showing the threatening forest for example. It helps young readers capture the mood of the scenes as the artwork works in beautiful unison with the text. Another example is the colour of Belladonna’s eyes which are piercing green, which mirrors her envious and jealous streak.

The front cover is bright and glittery which might fool the reader into thinking this is quite a tame version of the traditional tale. But it is anything but, and is indeed very dark at times and does not shy away from showing the ugliness of the witch’s character. It is also quite a long text and for these reasons it is best suited for slightly older readers. But it is an extremely successful retelling and beautiful book which deserves its place amongst the best illustrated fairy-tales. In fact, illustrator Lydia Monks chose this version of Hansel and Gretel as one oher favourite illustrated fairy-tales here.

All illustrations © Emma Chichester Clark

Many thanks to Walker Books for sending me a review copy of “Hansel and Gretel”.