Review of The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale

The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale
by Jon Klassen; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    112 pp.
7/23    9781536223361    $19.99
e-book ed.  9781536232158    $19.99

“One night…Otilla finally ran away.” After trekking through the snowy forest, she knocks at the door of a large old house. A skull in the window says he’ll let the girl in if she’ll carry him: “Rolling around is difficult for me.” “All right,” Otilla agrees, and soon they are touring his home together. Otilla finds there’s a lot she can do for the skull, who can no longer build a fire or make tea or reach the pears on the tree. (She kindly feeds him a bite of pear, which “went through him and fell onto the floor. ‘Ah, delicious,’ said the skull.”) They dance together in the ballroom, and when the skull warns her of the headless skeleton that chases him every night, Otilla sets out to help her new friend, handily destroying the skeleton. In gratitude, the skull invites her to stay with him, and, of course, she accepts. Unflappable Otilla and the unfailingly polite skull make for odd but exemplary companions in this well-paced tale, told in five parts (with most split into three brief sections) and illustrated in classic, deadpan Klassen style with speckled art that’s both mesmerizing and dryly hilarious. The dark tones of the art are warmed by slants of peach-hued winter sunlight; like the scary-funny story, darkness and light work in tandem surprisingly well. An author’s note expands on the background of this folktale retelling.

From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jennifer M. Brabander

Jennifer M. Brabander is former senior editor of The Horn Book Magazine. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature from Simmons University.

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