cover image The Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Michael Morpurgo, illus. by Emma Chichester Clark. Candlewick, $16.99 (64p) ISBN 978-0-7636-4824-4

The team behind 2008’s Hansel and Gretel gives this dark fairy tale a Dickensian spin and a blatant social agenda, with a socially marginal but insightful boy narrator; a corrupt, fetid setting (the rats must be literally beaten off with sticks); and a scathing indictment of the ruling class (“the rich and the greedy lived like kings and queens behind the walls and gates of their grand houses”). By the time the Piper arrives, readers will be itching for Hamelin to get its comeuppance, thanks to Clark’s moody acrylic and pencil illustrations and her portrayal of the Piper as a dashing, slyly menacing antihero. Unfortunately, Morpurgo has bigger fish to fry. Instead of the children being lost forever inside the mountain, they’re held in custody by the Piper until Hamelin cleans up its dumps, creates fair housing, builds a school and a playground, and puts in place a social safety net and health care reform (“No beggars walked the streets anymore, and the sick and old were lovingly cared for”). It’s enough to make even deep-seated blue staters blanch. Ages 5–up. (Oct.)