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Review of Snow White

phelan_snow whiteSnow White
by Matt Phelan; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    216 pp.
9/16    978-0-7636-7233-1    $19.99

Phelan has visited the 1930s Dust Bowl in The Storm in the Barn (rev. 11/09), early-1900s vaudevillian Buster Keaton in Bluffton (rev. 11/13), and late-nineteenth-century explorers in Around the World (rev. 11/11). Here he heads off to glittery, pre–Depression era New York City to re-vision the Grimms’ fairy tale. The book opens in 1928 with a stern-looking man asking a street urchin, “What’s the story here?” as the NYPD cordons off what seems to be the dead body of a woman in a store-window holiday display. The rest of the book leads up to the answer. In a flashback to 1918, we see happy little Samantha “Snow” White playing with her mother in Central Park. Ten years later, Mama dead of tuberculosis, a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl easily ensnares and marries Samantha’s wealthy older father. After sending the girl away to school and poisoning her husband, Samantha’s stepmother, furious upon learning that the dead man left the bulk of his estate to his daughter, decides that Samantha is next. The girl, now a young woman, flees to a Hooverville shantytown, where she is rescued by seven street boys, and the story takes its classic course. Pencil, ink, and watercolor images (in mostly sepia tones, with occasional spots of color: red for the poisoned apple, for example) move readers’ eyes across each page, providing an appropriately cinematic noir sensibility. This cinematic effect is further enhanced by the feel of constant movement, the varied panel sizes, and a judicious use of text. Some scenes are wordless; for others, Phelan uses varied fonts to enhance the drama. By the final wordless all-color sequence (spoiler: there is a happy ending), it is clear that this is an original and darkly beautiful take on the classic tale.

From the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Monica Edinger

Monica Edinger, a fourth-grade teacher at the Dalton School in New York City, blogs at Educating Alice and the Huffington Post. She is the author of Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad (Candlewick), illustrated by Robert Byrd.

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