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Folktales redux

Three recent picture books offer fresh takes on old tales from the likes of Grimm and Aesop; a fourth paints fairy-tale baddies in a more favorable, relatable light.

hobbie_hansel & gretelHolly Hobbie’s handsome edition of Hansel & Gretel strikes just the right balance between scary and not-too. The deep green forest is mysterious but inviting, its darkness offset by the delicacy of watercolor and by the light with which Hobbie foregrounds the unfortunate children. And that witch’s house, by the way, looks delicious. (Little, Brown, 4–8 years)

murray_hare and tortoiseWith lively digital art and a snappy text, Alison Murray’s Hare and Tortoise is a funny and satisfying read-aloud. “The Hare. Leapus swifticus. Eyes. Sharply focused on the finish line. Head. Perhaps a little bit big.” “The Tortoise. Slow and steadicus. fig. 1. Tortoise. fig 2. Rock.” Hare’s overconfidence lures him into complacency, and Tortoise manages to slip past and beat him to the barn-gate finish line. A smart design makes the always-popular fable even more engaging. (Candlewick, 4–8 years)

woollvin_little redLittle Red, Bethan Woollvin’s sly, economical tables-turning retelling, stars a girl who’s no dummy. Little Red’s own ax-wielding skills (demonstrated off camera) save the day. No delicate brushstrokes or pale palette here: chunky gouache and digital illustrations are restricted to black and gray against white, with red accents that nod to the classic. The fiercest illustration is a wordless stunner showing nothing but the girl’s almond eyes, black bangs, and red hood. (Peachtree, 4–8 years)

underwood_good night baddiesGood Night, Baddies by Deborah Underwood offers a kinder, gentler perspective on some notoriously mean characters. Witches, wolves, and others make their way to a bat-bedecked castle at sunset: “Queen and dragon, troll and gnome: / tired baddies head for home.” The rhyming text extends the story: a giant is scared that a princess may be hiding under his bed, for example, and a dragon and wolf “sing a baddie lullaby.” Juli Kangas’s watercolors with oil washes create vibrant colors with lots of depth. (Simon/Beach Lane, 4–8 years)

From the May 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

About Kitty Flynn

Kitty Flynn is consulting editor for The Horn Book, Inc.

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