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VINE VOICEon September 3, 2001
As a 5 and 6 year old, I recall reading this stark version of the fairy-tale. The illustrations here are simply beautiful! I remember talking to my mom about the issues in this tale -- famine and starvation, abandonment, cannibalism, supporting, being supported by your sibling, and returning/reunited to your family after being through everything.
My mom helped me understand the mom's behaviour in this story, and I hope I can do that for my son some day. Like all fairy tales, this simply looks at some of the worst that could happen, and lets you see a way out. I read it without these gorgeous illustrations too. You can't disney all of life, though I admit, I'm a sentimental soft-hearted person who cries when the cats get rained on when I'm watching the Aristocats :-) Enjoy, and think too ...
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on June 23, 2010
I noticed some reviewers very concerned about the fact that the children end up killing the old woman at the end. However, in every version of Hansel and Gretel that I've ever read that is how it ends. The old woman imprisons them and plans to "butcher" them to eat. Quite gruesome. She is not described as a "witch" but rather just a wicked old hag who uses her gingerbread house to lure in innocent children. While we don't want to teach violence to children, there is something empowering for young children to know that they can act to protect themselves against someone (even an adult) who is trying to hurt them. Rather than a fairy godmother or a handsome prince "rescuing" them, they rescue themselves. So, offing the witch at the end didn't bother me as much as some of the earlier pages. Hansel and Gretel's parents are so poor and have no food so the mother persuades the father to abandon them in the forest. It's a little hard to explain to a very young child why a mother would want to leave her children to die in the forest, regardless of how poor they are. I judiciously edited that part while reading it. I still think the book is a good one, but parents might want to read through it first before buying it.
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on July 31, 2000
As other reviewer here have noted, this story is not the 'watered down' modern version of the tale. I would not recommend the book for especially senstive kids. As it is my daughter (4 y.o.) asks each time we read the book, "why would H&G's mama and papa leave them in the woods alone and try to get rid of them?" "why would the witch keep Hansel in a cage / want to eat Hansel?" "why does Gretel push the witch into the oven and burn her?" etc. If your son / daughter is prone to nightmares, the wonderful illustrations really 'bring to life' the tale, so this book - between the story and the pictures - might just be too haunting for many kids. It dosen't bother my daughter, but then again, it is also not picked for bedtime reading very often, either. It really IS a gorgeous book, though.
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on February 14, 2016
I had to re-read this story, for I had read it and even seen movies based upon it before, for a course I'm taking in College on Children's Literature. I can see why it won a Caldecott medal, for the depictions of the story in this re-telling are exquisite. -Booklist said, about this version, that the illustrations were museum-quality executed in jewel-like colors-, and I can see what they mean. Every emotion these characters have are depicted in their paintings. And the scenery is also beautiful and enchanting.
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on November 3, 2006
When my kids were 5 & 6 years old, I discovered this book at the local library. It caught my eye because it was a (1985) Caldecott Medal Honor Book, and was displayed w/lots of other Caldecott Medal winners. We usually read 30-60 minutes before bedtime and this book was a family favorite; we checked it out from the library again and again. The illustrations are vivid and memorable. Of course, it helped to read the book with a creepy/scary voice for the witch's character. The kids enjoyed the illustrations tremendously, often looking at the pictures on their own. Recently, I bought a copy of this book and gave it to my son, a recent new father. What a big hit! He remembered this book well, even though it's been 18 years since we read it!
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on March 24, 2002
Hansel and Gretel is a classic story about a family that lives in the woods. The father is a woodcutter and the family is very poor. The mother convinces the father that they should go out into the woods and leave their children there. She says that it is the only way they will survive. Hansel heard his parents talking about this one night and he told Gretel. The next day, their parents told them that they were going into the forest to chop wood. Hansel took a handful of pebbles and dropped them a little bit at a time on their way. This was so they could find their way back home. The idea worked. The mother and father decided to try again. This time Hansel dropped breadcrumbs, but the birds of the forest ate the breadcrumbs and the children were lost. They started walking and came upon a house made of candy. Little did they know, a witch lived inside. The witch tried cooking Hansel, but Gretel managed to shove the witch into the oven. Hansel and Gretel found lots of pearls and diamonds in boxes in the witches house. They shoved them into their pockets and left. They finally found their way home and when they got there, they found out that the mother had died.
This book has always been one of my favorites. When you add Zelinsky illustration's it is a literary success. Rika Lesser did an incredible job of retelling this classic. The umbrella theme of children's literature of, "if you put your mind to it you can accomplish anything" is hidden in the fairy tale book.
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on March 19, 2012
The tale of Hansel and Gretel is hundreds of years old and has been told time and time again. Rika Lesser's retelling, however, strives to be a true as possible to the tale as it was first published by the Brothers Grimm. Beware that this version of the story is darker than more modern, Disney-fied versions: the mother, wanting more food for herself, abandons her children in the forest. When they return, she angrily takes them back into the forest and leaves them when they're sleeping. Then of course there's the whole debacle with the children-eating witch and Gretel cooking her alive in the oven, a portion of the story that, for all it macabre violence, hasn't actually changed much over the centuries. But at the end when the children return home, their mother has "died" inexplicably, and it may just be me, but it seems likely that the father, outraged with his wife's attitude towards her children, has done her in.

This is Hansel and Gretel in all its glory, with folksy, well-done illustrations by the esteemed Paul O. Zelinksy. I wish there were a bit more detail in the illustrations, but it seems Zelinksy strove to capture the rustic feel evoked by the text.

My one criticism is that the story is rather long, but this is likely due to its loyalty to the original. In the final analysis, this is one of the much better - if not best - tellings of Hansel and Gretel on today's market.
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on January 15, 2007
This is a nice rendition of Hansel & Gretel, much as the one I recall from my childhood. One of the only more obvious differences I noted was that it was not the "step-mother" who encouraged the father to abondon the children in the forest, but instead, the "mother," perhaps reflective of our more sensitive times. Zelinsky's illustrations, as indicated by the Caldecott Medal, enhanced the story greatly. All-in-all, a cute, nostalgic Grimm's Fairy Tale...though I see no mention of the Borthers Grimm in this book.
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on April 14, 2011
This is a beautiful retelling of Hansel and Gretel - younger readers will enjoy that it is not too terrifying.

The old woman says "Nibble, nibble, Nubble! Who gnaws my house to rubble?" -- close to the German version. No magical swans to bring them home.

I think our favorite "Hansel and Gretel" is still James Marshall's. Try them both!
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on December 16, 2015
This story was a lot scarier than I remembered it. This may be the original tale but it was not well received in my house. My 4 year old didn't understand why anyone's mother or father would try to lead them out into the woods and leave them! We put this one away after the first time we read it. I don't want my child to think she can't trust me. This kids in this story surely can't trust that their parents will take care of them!
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