________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 7 . . . . November 29, 2002


Three Tales of Trickery. (Once-Upon-A-Time).

Marilyn Helmer, reteller. Illustrated by Noushin Pajouhesh.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2002.
32 pp., cloth, $10.95.
ISBN 1-55074-937-4.

Subject Heading:
Fairy Tales.

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Denise Weir.

**** /4

Part of the “Once-Upon-A-Time” series, Three Tales of Trickery is a retelling of a trio of familiar stories that share a common theme.

“Little Red Riding Hood”

The hunter hurried inside and looked into the bedroom. Lying on the bed was a large hairy creature wearing a frilly nightie and sleeping cap. A pair of huge hairy feet stuck out from the bottom of the nightie. Two large hairy ears and a great hairy chin poked out from beneath the cap.

     This cautionary tale, retold in a traditional style, explains how Red Riding Hood received her name. Carrying a basket of goodies to visit a sick grandmother, Red Riding Hood forgets her mother's warnings to "stay on the path, don't dawdle and above all do not talk to strangers." She meets the Wolf, who, after suggesting that Red Riding Hood should pick flowers from her granny, sneaks off to eat the elderly lady. When Little Red Riding Hood gets to Grandma's house, she finds a hairy grandma in the bed. The Wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood and falls asleep. The Wolf's snores attract the attention of a hunter who realizes that Wolf has eaten someone. The hunter shoots the Wolf and cuts him open. As they have been swallowed whole, Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood jump out of the Wolf. They then sit down for a meal with the hunter. When Red Riding Hood is about to leave for home, her grandmother gives her the same warning as her mother had given her at the beginning of the story, and a wiser little girl heads straight home without straying off the path.

     Parents, teachers, or librarians who are looking for material on how to talk to their children about strangers or "feeling no" situations would do well to refer to this traditional cautionary tale. The author has added humour to the story with the Wolf's loud snoring, and the illustrator's pictures complement the tale. The illustrations appear to have been made in oils. The artwork is excellent and appears to be "child-like" in structure.

     The value of the Red Riding Hood story is found in the positive attitudes which are reflected in the characters’ actions and the story’s illustrations. Grandma, Red Riding Hood, and the hunter sit down for a feast after the pair’s rescue. The illustrations portray a happy and loving grandmother and grandchild, and the hunter appears calm and happy. It is important for children to see that their experiences did not stop them from being loving people who can now lead a normal life. The hard lesson learned helped Little Red Riding Hood live wiser and safer. It is also important that Little Red Riding Hood is not blamed for her actions, nor does she blame anyone else for not protecting her. Life can be nasty; it's how one overcomes the frightening, life threatening times in our lives that makes us stronger. “Little Red Riding Hood” is a story of psychological strength and maturity that is as useful for today's child as it has been through the ages.

“Hansel and Gretel”

His wife, who was the children's stepmother, said spitefully. "Tomorrow we will take the children deep into the forest and leave them there. They'll never find their way home, so there will be two less mouths to feed."

The woodcutter could hardly believe his ears. "I cannot abandon my beloved children!" he protested.

"Then we will all starve to death," snapped his wife. She nagged and and pleaded until, at last, the woodcutter gave in.

     Like “Little Red Riding Hood,” the story of Hansel and Gretel closely follows the traditional tale. The wicked stepmother manipulates the father into abandoning the children in the forest. The children overhear the plans, and Hansel creeps out of the house to fill his pockets with shiny white pebbles. By dropping the pebbles on the path, the children follow the trail back to the house after they have been abandoned. While the father is joyful at the safe return of the children, the stepmother has "no words of welcome".

     For a while, the family seems to manage, but again, the stepmother insists on getting rid of the children. The parents lock the door, and the children are forced to use bread crumbs rather than stones. Of course, the birds eat the crumbs, and the children wander, become lost in the forest and fall asleep. When they awake, they see a gingerbread house and begin to eat it. The "kindly" old woman who lives inside the house asks them to come in for more delicious things to eat. However, the children are tricked. Hansel is caged to be fattened up for the witch to eat; Gretel becomes a slave. Becoming impatient with Hansel's lack of weight gain, the witch decides to eat him anyway. When Gretel pretends not to know how to test the oven's heat, the impatient witch leans over to show her, and Gretel shoves her into the oven.

     The children run into a room that the witch had never let Gretel enter. In this room, they find an abundance of jewels and treasure which they take home to their father. To get home, they cross a lake on the back of a beautiful swan, travel through the forest, and come to a clearing which is their home. The stepmother has died, and the family members live together without fear or want.

     As a traditional tale, “Hansel and Gretel” approaches the issue of starvation, child abuse, and, in this case, possible spousal abuse in which the wife is the abuser. The tale draws on the issues of broken trust from parents and other adults. It is a tale where the children must rely upon their own wits to ensure survival. However, it is also an tale of forgiveness. The father is forgiven for his part in the abandonment.

     The uniqueness of this version of the “Hansel and Gretel” story is expressed in the illustrations which are created with oil paints. The artist portrays an abused husband. The initial illustration shows an older, weary, worn, and oppressed husband. The stepmother is somewhat younger than the husband; she does not have any gray hair. The husband is sitting, and the scowling wife is literally leaning on her husband. The characters' expressions and body language, the angle of the room, which appears to be "falling" on the husband, create a sense of an abusive wife, a "hopeless" situation, and a husband trapped in a marriage and economic circumstances that are crippling his sense of self.

     This version of “Hansel and Gretel” could be given to children or adults who are dealing with abuse in their own lives. The book may be useful for the survivors of abuse to be able to explore how families are able to heal after a traumatic, damaging situation. It may be that “Hansel and Gretel” is a traditional recognition that some families have trials and tribulations that they cannot deal with at the time, even though they acknowledge that there was wrong done. It is interesting that Hansel and Gretel "overcome their fears" (the witch) and live out acts of kindness (giving treasure to the "abuser") as a way to heal themselves and their family. Acts of healing may be more of a strength of character that can forgive the past and look to the future.

     Another attractive part of this version of “Hansel and Gretel” is that the witch uses rhyme whenever she speaks. The rhymes are italicized and physically separate from the rest of the print. This use of print highlights the witch's intentions. It is useful for the listener to hear these words spoken, and to the reader as they lead to the climax of the witch’s being pushed into the oven.


The miller's daughter burst into tears. "What am I to do?" she sobbed. "I know nothing about spinning straw into gold. "Suddenly the door flew open and a strange little man danced into the room. He stood before the miller's daughter and said:
Tell me, Tell me, maiden fair, Why are you in such despair?

internal art

     Once again, Helmer closely follows the traditional tale of “Rumpelstiltskin.” A boastful miller brags to a king that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The King calls the miller's bluff, imprisons the maiden in a room filled with straw, and threatens her life if she cannot fulfill his wishes. A distraught young woman is surprised by a strange little man who appears in the room. He agrees to spin the straw into gold for her in return for a "just reward." The girl gives him her necklace.

     When the king sees the room of full of gold, he orders another, larger room of straw to be spun into gold. Again, the young woman cries, and again, the strange man appears and says his little rhyme. The girl gives him a ring, and the man spins the straw into gold.

     The king, seeing the room of gold, orders an even larger room full of straw to be spun into gold. If she succeeds, the girl will become queen. Again the young woman cries; the strange man appears and says his little rhyme. However, the girl has nothing to give him as a reward. In return for his work, the little man asks for her first born child. As there is no alternative, the young woman agrees. The little man goes to work and spins gold.

     A year later, the woman, who has been made queen, bears a child. The little man appears and demands his "payment." The Queen asks for mercy and offers all the riches of the kingdom if she can keep her child. The little man feels sorry for her and gives the Queen three days to guess his name. The first two days the Queen unsuccessfully guesses. Then, the Queen sends out her servants to learn all the unusual names in the kingdom. One servant returns with the name of "Rumpelstiltskin." When the little man returns on the third day, he is enraged that the Queen has correctly guessed his name. He spins himself into a whirlwind and disappears.

     The illustrations of this story are key to understanding the nature of Rumpelstiltskin. At first, Rumpelstiltskin appears kindly, but his facial expressions become increasingly angry and demanding. Likewise, the miller's daughter's expressions turn from hopefulness at the first appearance to expressions of increasing worry. This story is, of course, a tale of the consequences of lies of omission and the lies of commission. While the miller probably did not intend to place his daughter in harm’s way, as a braggart, he claims the impossible and places the life of his present and future family in the hands of a little "blackmailer." Likewise, the daughter is caught in a lie for she does not admit to the king that she cannot spin straw into gold. She likely goes along with the lie to protect her father.

     This cautionary tale could be used with children to explain the consequences of lying or at least stretching the truth. Each time the lie is told, it become more elaborate and complex and difficult to get out of. The individual telling the lie becomes powerless. The control of her/his life goes into the hands of others, in this case the king and Rumpelstiltskin.

     In summary, these traditional tales found in Three Tales of Trickery are excellent ways for parents, children, and perhaps, adults in crisis to deal with the issues that they are facing. These stories provide a lot of room for thought and discussion.

     The publisher's age recommendation for this book is ages 5 to 8. However, the reviewer would caution that the amount of text in this book could be intimidating to beginning readers. Nonetheless, the book could be used as a read aloud for story times on a one on one basis. While Three Tales of Trickery does have excellent illustrations, some of the pictures are small and would be difficult to see in a group story time should the children be a distance from the reader.

     Each story has a reoccurring illustration at the top of each page that complements the theme of the story. Fruits, vegetables, and pies illustrate the pages of “Red Riding Hood” while candies illustrate the pages of “Hansel and Gretel” and spindles of gold illustrate the pages of “Rumpelstiltskin.”

Highly Recommended.

Denise Weir is a library consultant with Manitoba Culture Heritage and Tourism, Public Library Services.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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