This strange and unsettling tale is made all the stranger and more unsettling by Zwerger’s spare, isolated figures in their pale interiors and landscapes, not to mention the rats that populate many of the versos until they are dispatched.
The Grimms provide a precise date, June 26, 1284, for the tale, as the reteller Raecke notes in her afterword. It unfurls with chilling specificity. Rats have overrun the town of Hamelin, and the townspeople promise much gold to the stranger with the parti-colored coat if he will rid the town of them. He does, by playing “a tune that had never been heard before,” which sends all the rats to the river Weser. But the townspeople renege on their promise, and the piper comes back dressed like a hunter and plays another unknown tune—and all the Hamelin children who can walk follow him and disappear, and the piper with them. Zwerger’s haunting images and the mystery of the story itself make for a powerful telling. What does it mean and with whom will it resonate? Older children might be captivated by the idea of following a stranger’s music (and the importance of keeping your word); younger children might be intrigued by the rats and their departure.
This lovely and penetratingly creepy version of the familiar tale will linger long with readers. (Picture book/fairy tale. 5-9)