Friday, May 23, 2014

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by the Brothers Grimm, translated and illustrated by Wanda Gag

The first section I did for my Neighborhoods project was fairy tales and folklore. This wasn't because it's just a hugely popular section, just that I thought it would be the easiest to separate. As part of this project, each section I do gets a thorough weeding and replacements and additional books. I was surprised to realize how few versions of some popular fairy tales we had and went looking for more. When I was looking for Snow White, I found this new edition of Wanda Gag's classic version of the Grimm fairy tale and I knew we had to have it.

Fairy tales are a hard sell today. They're much longer than contemporary picture books, which seem to be primarily written for 3 and under or as a step before easy readers. Most parents will look at them and put them back "too long" "not enough pictures" for their younger kids. But when it comes to older kids, they still look like picture books and the big push is for kids to read chapter books earlier and earlier.

That makes this version an even harder sell, but it's so delightful I still had to have it. Gag's version (which was at least partly written in reaction to Disney's sentimentalized cartoon) includes all the classic elements of the original story - the birth of Snow White, the jealousy of the witch and her magic mirror, Snow White's flight and her rescue by the Dwarves, the three visits by the witch ending with a bite of a poisoned apple and a death-like sleep. Eventually she's rescued by a prince (although there's no kissing involved - a servant is hauling the coffin off for the prince and drops it, which dislodges the bite of apple) and there's a happy ending for all, except the wicked queen who has to dance in red hot shoes.

However, Gag's edition also softens some of the creepier parts of the original fairy tale without losing any of the flavor of the tale. When Snow White traipses off with her prince, the illustration shows the dwarves reading a letter inviting them to the wedding. The queen is given red hot shoes to "dance out her wicked life" instead of dancing until she falls down dead. Snow White is a little girl for most of the story, but many years pass while she's in the casket so you don't get the whole "skeevy prince falls in love with a dead child" vibe. Apart from the minor changes in the story, Wanda Gag's translation is sprightly and has that classic fairy tale feel with the repeated motifs, odd little details, and bits of magic and romance that make a fairy tale memorable.

Her retelling fits perfectly with her adorable prints. Everything is curvy and incredibly detailed, showing the cheery little girl, the dwarves, and wicked queen, and more. This is more of a beginning chapter book than a picture book - although there are illustrations on every page, they are outweighed by the large chunks of text and complement, rather than tell the story themselves. The book is smaller than a normal picture book and 43 pages long.

Verdict: While it might be a little harder to get parents to check out this longer fairy tale to read aloud or to convince kids reading alone to give it a try, I think it will be worth it. Wanda Gag's text and illustrations are as fresh and flow as smoothly as they did when she originally wrote this story back in 1938. A true classic.

ISBN: 9780816644209; This edition published 2004 by the University of Minnesota Press; Purchased for the library

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