If this isn’t the definitive edition of “Hansel and Gretel,” it’s absolutely necessary.
It would be easy for readers to believe that Mattotti drew these pictures while listening to a storyteller by firelight, as if he grabbed a piece of charcoal straight out of the ashes, because he needed to draw the characters right away. The truth may be even more amazing. The pictures were inspired by a Metropolitan Opera production of the Humperdinck favorite, and the thick patches of ink contain five different colors, though the effect is of enveloping blackness. The swirling lines look as though they might start moving if seen at just the right moment. The pictures have inspired Gaiman to write some of his most beautiful sentences, direct and horrifying: “If you do not eat,” says the woodcutter’s wife, “then you will not be able to swing an axe. And if you cannot cut down a tree, or haul the wood into the town, then we all starve and die.” The wordless double-page spreads alternate with text-filled spreads, with lines set generously apart and framed by delicate flowers. A deluxe version, about half again as big, features a die-cut cover but is otherwise equally, spectacularly understated.
The Grimm version is as frightening as a bedtime story gets, but this version will scare people in new ways, and some of those people may need to start drawing right away. (historical notes) (Picture book/fairy tale. 7-12)