cover image Ouch!


Natalie Babbitt, Marcellino. HarperCollins Publishers, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-205066-3

In this abbreviated version of the Grimms' ""The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs,"" a crown-shaped birthmark heralds a boy's bright future. Based on this omen, a fortuneteller predicts that Marco will marry a princess, and this comes to pass in short order: ""So the two were married, with plenty of joy and noise, and that should have been the end of it. But it wasn't."" The youth still must placate his evil father-in-law, the king, who demands three golden hairs from the head of the Devil. Marco ventures forth to Hell, where he meets the Devil's impish grandmother, who agrees to yank the three hairs. (""Ouch!"" is the Devil's exclamation as she does the deed.) Thus, he keeps the princess, and then exacts revenge on the king. Babbitt (Bub) rewrites the classic story in a casual voice infused with wry wit, paring it down to its essentials (e.g., leaving out the magical golden apples and wine-flowing fountain), while Marcellino (The Story of Little Babaji) paints the characters in picturesque Renaissance-era garb. He constructs scenes of architectural grandeur: readers become spectators at the wedding, looking up at the starry ceiling, and stand alongside the newly married prince at the steps of Hell, which appears as a desolate castle with firelit bricks and oversize wooden furniture. The Devil himself is a slim, none-too-threatening figure in a red unitard decorated with ruffles at the wrist. The inventive layout, based on a rectangular grid, features creatively cropped and overlapping color images and blocky text. Although things come together a bit too easily in this Grimm tale, readers will likely lap up Babbitt's intelligent retelling, mixed with a dash of sly humor and dressed in Marcellino's signature finery. All ages. (Nov.)