Hansel and Gretel
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by: Lorenzo Mattotti
Publisher: TOON Graphics
Format: Hardcover, 7 x 10, 56 pages, Black and White, $16.95
As a professor of children's literature it often plagues me to hear and to see educators "shooing" children away from certain books and towards other books. Why?, I obsessively wonder.
Most often I see this happen when a misguided educator doesn't understand the full literary potential embedded in contemporary early reader comics and graphic novels. In the case of Gaiman and Mattotti's courageous and brutally honest early reader comic retelling of the Grimm Brothers' Hansel and Gretel (published by Toon Books) I challenge educators, librarians, and parents to shoo their children towards the text and the images so profoundly rich and breathtaking. Delicate with their words and their images Gaiman and Mattotti are purposefully alluring to younger readers who want to think about and ponder the sometimes beautiful and the sometimes unfair realities of life. Just like Hansel and Gretel I wanted to know the truth: Why did my birth parents abandon me as a child? How could I possibly survive alone in the great forest of life? Well, here I am.
With undercurrents of bravery and courage Hansel and Gretel face their forest of fear in the tender and honest hands of both Gaiman and Mattotti.
Elements of Story
Plot: Abandoned by their parents in a forest Hansel and Gretel must find a way to survive and thrive in the absence of sheltering parental hands
Characters: Woodcutter, Woodcutter's wife, Hansel, Gretel, old woman
Settings: woodcutter family home, the forest, old woman's house
Themes: courage and bravery, truth and honesty, problem-solving, family, necessity versus reality
Recommended Common Core Standards for Early Readers
Key Ideas and Details
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3 Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
Directions: Remember the game Candy Land, with its winding and twisting brick-like paths? The paths that link the beginning of the game to the end of the game? In sum, from top-to-bottom the game board is a simple set of scattered squares moving from left to right and up and down. Simple enough the goal is to get to the end of the fun-filled, directionally-challenged squares first.
When I read Gaiman's Toon Books version of Hansel and Gretel I felt like I was on a journey set on a fantastical game board that lured my curiosities, sometimes up and sometimes down. Sometimes right. Sometimes left. Sometimes making progress. Sometimes experiencing a setback.
With that visual dancing around in my head I encourage teachers to design a black and white Candy Land game board for small group play. Why black and white? The black and white artistry in this Toon Book captivate and contrast the tricky and dangerously realistic and pulsating world of Gaiman’s Hansel and Gretel. With each roll of the provided dice students move the appropriate number of squares. If the student lands on a white square they draw one card from a premade pile of white cards. And vice versa with the black squares and cards.
While the white cards focus on questions regarding character and plot, the black cards concentrate on questions regarding theme and key events and decisions from the story. If students get an answer wrong they must return to their previous square and wait for their next turn to try again. If a student gets the answer correct he or she may move one bonus square without having to answer that second question.
Perfect for playful story comprehension with an emphasis on key ideas and details this game will allow teachers to not only assess how well the story has been comprehended, but also play over and over again until every student achieves successful story comprehension.
Dr. Katie Monnin is an Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of North Florida. Besides the joy that comes with reading comic books and graphic novels, Dr. Monnin enjoys a Peter Pan-ish life of researching and writing her own books about teaching comics, graphic novels, and cartoons: Teaching Graphic Novels (2010), Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011), Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning (2012), Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts (2013), and Get Animated! Teaching 21st Century Early Reader and Young Adult Cartoons in Language Arts (2013); Teaching New Literacies in Elementary Language Arts (in press, 2014). When she is not writing (or sitting around wondering how she ended up making an awesome career out of studying comics and graphic novels), Dr. Monnin spends her time with her two wiener dogs, Sam and Max.