Lesser, Rika (retold by). Hansel and Gretel. Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Book Review.

Click here to buy Hansel and Gretel

On the cover of  Hansel and Gretel, Paul O. Zelinsky’s name comes first and is in larger print. The author has translated the story from a transcription by Wilhelm Grimm but it is the illustrations that star in this book. Zelinsky is well knowing for his amazing oil paintings. He again produces full page color illustrations that are fit for framing as works of art. The characters seem alive and the settings are vivid enough to enter. The muted color, shading, and perspective suits the story line perfectly.

Rika Lesser tells the story in the traditional style. She holds nothing back. The parents abandon Hansel and Gretel twice in the forest. The witch is a cruel, frightening cannibal. Interestingly, she looks like an ordinary woman – no black robes or pointed hat. The words and illustrations show us that children are at the mercy of adults, even harmless looking ones, even ones who are supposed to love and protect them.

The version I am most familiar with says that the mother, who convinces the father to abandon his children in the woods, is actually the stepmother. In this story, she is their biological mother. This makes the concept more frightening and disturbing. The matter of fact way she sentences her children to a harsh and lonely death is chilling.

Because of the disturbing nature of the story, I would not recommended for children under nine years of age. It would be suitable for older students studying traditional fairy tales.


Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages