Friday, 1 November 2019

ReadItDaddy's First Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 1st November 2019: "Hansel and Gretel" by Bethan Woollvin (Two Hoots)

Somehow, Bethan Woollvin's darkly delicious and thoroughly brilliant versions of classic tales have eluded our slippery grasp up until now, but we're very pleased to nominate "Hansel and Gretel" by Bethan for a well-deserved Book of the Week award, mostly because it's an absolutely brilliant read, but fully because it goes quite a long way to restoring our faith that there are agents and publishers out there who buck the trend for the usual picture book fare.

"Hansel and Gretel" doesn't begin with the wayward babes lost in the wood, instead it begins with the story of Willow the Witch, yes, she of the confectionary-based house and rather large oven.

But ah, Willow isn't the evil old hag depicted in the usual versions of Hansel and Gretel. In fact Willow is a good witch, good to a fault because when she first meets the twins, they are disrupting the quiet and peaceful forest by throwing breadcrumbs willy nilly about the place.

Anxious to avoid a nasty situation where those crumbs attract rats and pigeons back to her lovely gingerbread cottage, Willow befriends the two, and takes them back to her house - where they rather rudely begin nibbling at its roof and walls! OH NO!

That's a lovely tasty lookin' house you've got there, shame if anything happened to it *munch*
Willow is a good witch though, so rather than blasting the twins to kingdom come with her wand, she takes them in and gives them a slap up feed instead.

Replete, the two aren't quite finished trouble-making just yet - and when they find the witch's wand, things go from bad to worse!

No lashings of ginger beer spotted, but that most definitely is a slap-up feast!
Willow, her patience tested to the very limit, has had enough! So what happens next?

Oh you just know what we're going to say. You'll have to read the book to find out. We've waited ages to get on board the Bethan Woollvin story train, and we're glad to be aboard. She has an exquisite gift for tweaking, teasing and twisting well loved fairy tales into subtly dark tales of comeuppance. If you've lost faith that nasty people in the world get their just desserts in the end, this book may just restore some of that faith indeed. There are very few author-illustrators who 'get' exactly what kids love when it comes to subversion (Kate Beaton is the other author-illustrator who springs to mind, and I dearly hope she's back and writing for kids very soon now she's got a little smasher of her own). But oh Bethan, you've won us over. Like we said on Twitter, no one draws a sly side eye like you!

Sum this book up in a sentence: An absolutely brilliant, nay definitive version of the classic Hansel and Gretel tale shot through with a brilliant dark heart and an utterly satisfying ending.

"Hansel and Gretel" by Bethan Woollvin is out now, published by Two Hoots Books (kindly supplied for review).