cover image The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale

The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale

Jon Klassen. Candlewick, $19.99 (112p) ISBN 978-1-5362-2336-1

This eerie reworking of a Tyrolean folktale by Caldecott Medalist Klassen opens as pale-skinned young Otilla, lost in a snowy forest after running away, stumbles upon a mansion inhabited by a talking skull. Somber, digitally finished graphite and ink artwork imbues the forest and the mansion with shadowy verticality. The skull greets Otilla from a window with an uncomfortable but dryly funny proposition: “I will come down and let you in, but only if you promise to carry me once I do. I am just a skull, and rolling around is difficult for me.” Otilla agrees, and the skull shows her the abandoned home’s rooms, its bottomless pit, and its tall tower. Confiding as they go, the skull eventually mentions the headless skeleton that pursues it each night. Otilla falls easily into a caretaking role as the two eat pears, dance, and bed down in relative safety. When the skeleton appears, Otilla moves with an imaginatively cold-blooded finality that reflects both characters’ desire not to be pursued. Echoes of other forbidding fairy tales pervade this high-stakes telling, in which Otilla’s primal bravery and sly wit result in an arc from flight to mutual reliance. An author’s note concludes. Ages 6–9. Agent: Steve Malk, Writers House. (July)