cover image Hansel & Gretel

Hansel & Gretel

Holly Hobbie. Little, Brown, $17 (32p) ISBN 978-0-316-07017-1

Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti’s version of Hansel and Gretel may be a current darling, but Hobbie’s version is as harrowing, if not more; the starving family’s plight and grim cruelty that drive the action seem grounded in a not-very-distant world (witch in a pointy hat notwithstanding). It starts on the first spread, when the stepmother announces at the dinner table that if the children’s woodcutter father refuses to reduce the number of hungry mouths by two, he’ll need to “Make four coffins.... One for each of us” (a phrase drawn from the Brothers Grimm). Working in watercolor, ink, and gouache, Hobbie (Gem) offers an emotionally searing scene: Gretel has stopped stirring her gruel and stares at the stepmother, while Hansel, his spoon frozen inches from his mouth, looks wide-eyed at his father. The woodcutter, dressed in overalls (a Let Us Now Praise Famous Men vibe accompanies many of the images), has his back to readers, so his reaction—horror? resignation?—can only be imagined. Both the witch and the stepmother are eventually dispatched, but until that happens Hansel and Gretel have seldom seemed more vulnerable and abandoned. Ages 3–6. (Oct.)