MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
Ten-year-old Hansel is hungry and poor, his sister Gretel is an annoyance to him, and he overhears his starving parents talking about a famine that seems to have fallen not just upon their family, but over the entire realm.
Determined to save their children, his parents decide that abandoning them in the forest may be the only way of saving them - and yet Hansel keeps cleverly finding his way home, while his extraordinary ability to eavesdrop keeps him one step ahead of their plans.
Because this retelling stays true to its original story line, the inevitable happens, and Hansel must employ all his cleverness if he and his sister are to survive the evil Petra, who has entrapped many children before them.
It's no light task to take a well-known fairy tale and rework it in such a way that familiar, stale story lines become vivid with new meaning, especially with such a classic as Hansel and Gretel. Retellings often must stray quite far from their original roots to capture this sense of originality, but such is not the case with Hansel and Gretel: The Brothers Grimm Story Told as a Novella, and this is because Mike Klaassen's approach is to add a great deal of psychological insight to explain characters' choices and rationales.
From Hansel's changing relationship with his little sister ("Hansel couldn't stand to see his little sister abused, and he said, "Do as she says, Gretel.") to his problem-solving abilities ("He considered refusing to eat any more food, but then Petra would hurt Gretel again. He needed to find a solution to his problem, but he could think of nothing that would save their lives."), psychological depth brings this classic story to new life.
Why is Hansel so clever? What are the conflicts he faces between protecting his little sister and feeling that she's a stubborn obstruction in his life? Why would their parents consider that abandoning their children was a better option than all of them starving together, or searching out a different way of living? How does Hansel's ability to observe and analyze his world, both within the home and outside of it, open them up to new options?
These are just some of the ideas in a retelling that stays entirely true to its roots, but injects new understanding into a dark and otherwise-puzzling story line. Those with a special affinity for fairy tale retellings will quickly recognize that this Hansel and Gretel is more than a notch above the usual approach, remaining more connected to its original than most and yet offering something far more compelling. A reading of this novella along with other fairy tale reworks will quickly highlight Klaassen's unique strengths. —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
Mike Klaassen’s retelling of Hansel and Gretel was a pleasure to read. He has brought the classic story back to life, modernizing it slightly with the language so that it can be read, understood, and engaged with by children young and old. The story of Hansel and Gretel is timeless, and Klaassen has not altered it so that it deviates from the version originally told by the Brothers Grimm. I can see that this is the first in a series, and the addition of other stories will certainly make for a great volume collection eventually.
The story as we know it is of two young children, a brother and sister, who are led deep into the woods by their desperate parents, who fear that they will all starve and die if this drastic action isn’t taken. Klaassen takes you through the parents' emotions and rationale, the young Hansel and Gretel’s reaction to their parents' decision, their clever plan to find their way home, and then their discovery of the witch’s cottage filled with food and sweets deep in the woods, and her devious plan. The drama was good, and anyone who knows the story knows the ending. It would be perfect with some small illustrations throughout, but overall I enjoyed re-visiting a story from my younger years, and it’s amazing how much I had actually forgotten of the tale. Mike Klaassen’s version of Hansel and Gretel will be well received by parents and children alike, and I encourage him to continue rewriting these classics into a full series.—Rachel McGrath, Readers’ Favorite
A novella offers a retelling and expansion of "Hansel and Gretel."
Following the broad strokes of the original folk tale, Klaassen (Fiction-Writing Modes: Eleven Essential Tools for Bringing Your Story to Life, 2015, etc.) adds descriptions and a few plot changes. Young Hansel and Gretel overhear their mother and woodcutter father discussing their plan to take the children deep into the woods and abandon them to avoid their own imminent starvation. In Klaassen's version, the children's mother is not identified as a stepmother, and although their father hesitates to accept the plan, he eventually agrees. Hansel gathers reflective stones and leaves a trail when their parents lead them away, enabling him and Gretel to find their way back. Their parents, while happy when the children return, still can find no solution other than to abandon them in the forest. This time, Hansel leaves a trail of bread crumbs, with predictable results. The hungry children follow a magical white bird, first to a berry-laden bush, then to a gingerbread cottage inhabited by a cannibalistic witch who plans to fatten up Hansel for her next meal. The modern variation has Hansel, rather than Gretel, push the witch into the fireplace, ending the spell she has cast over the forest. Klaassen's development enhances certain aspects of the story, such as the suggestion that the witch's spell caused the famine; by killing her, Hansel ends the enchantment. But his reworking of the common fairy-tale device of the evil stepmother—making the children's biological parents complicit in plotting their deaths—is more disturbing than the traditional version. More unsettling still is the children's determination to return to their parents, perhaps to provide another opportunity for attempted murder. While Klaassen's addition of descriptions, sensory details, and dialogue brings depth to his novella, there is a certain beauty to the sparseness of the original version. Nonetheless, by eliminating the obvious villain, the author allows for more contemplation and discussion concerning the parents' difficult decision and their children's innocent forgiveness.
An embellishment of an age-old folk tale that adds intriguing elements while remaining faithful to the original story.