Lynn: Author/artist Matt Phelan has gifted readers with a brilliant twist on a familiar tale. In Snow White (2016), set in the Roaring Twenties and Depression-Era New York, young Samantha “Snow” White loses her mother to tuberculosis. Her father, the King of Wall Street, soon marries a stunningly beautiful Queen of the Follies star who, in short order, sends her stepdaughter off to boarding school and poisons her husband. Shocked to discover he has left his fortune to his daughter, the evil stepmother hires Mr. Hunter to kill Snow White, but he spares her life. She flees to a Hooverville, taking refuge there with a gang of boys calling themselves the Seven.
Phelan’s masterful use of smoky black and white sketches give this book the air of a silent film. His occasional use of color—found on cheeks, lips, hearts, and apples—stands out dramatically, as do the end pages, drawn in warm tones.
Phelan uses period detail masterfully, and readers will enjoy spotting them. The Queen receives messages from a ticker-tape machine instead of a magic mirror, the evil queen electrocutes herself on a theater marquis, and Snow White’s glass coffin is the window of a department store. Does anyone else who’s read this wonder if Phelan is really a time-traveler from the Depression? Whether he’s a refugee from the 30’s or not, his choice of setting feels natural for this continued exploration of the tale’s original themes.
While appropriate for a younger audience, this book will also appeal to a high school reader who can appreciate historical flair and gorgeous design.
Cindy: While not a graphic novel like Phelan’s, The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan retells 75 Grimm fairy tales in an equally exceptional and creative fashion. Tan combines his storytelling and artistic talents to provide a nugget from each Grimm tale, each of which is accompanied by a sculpture photographed to eerie effect on the facing page. An annotated index fills readers in on a synopsis of each story, though they are encouraged to seek out the full story in a book or online.
You really need to see this book to appreciate it. In his forward, Neil Gaiman says this about Tan’s artwork:
His sculptures suggest, they do not describe. They imply, they do not delineate . . . Shaun Tan makes me want to hold these tales close, to rub them with my fingers, to feel the cracks and the creases and the edges of them. He makes me want to pick them up, inspect them from unusual angles, feel the heft and weight of them . . . These pictures make me want to put the stories into my mouth, knowing that I will eventually have to spit them out again, reluctantly, in words.
What a treasure this will be in the hands of creative teachers who might use it in any number of ways to spur art and writing projects. Given that many of my middle-school students are missing even the barest bones of fairy tale literacy, I’m grateful for these new and creative ways to perpetuate these essential stories.