Okay, let’s face it. As far as fairy tales go, Hansel and Gretel is pretty dark. The family is starving, so their cruel stepmother convinces their father to abandon them in the woods so they starve to death. Then they stumble upon a witch’s candy house, and she captures them with plans to eat them. Finally, Gretel pushes the wicked witch into a flaming oven, where she burns to a crisp.
But believe it or not, there are many good reasons to read fairy tales to kids – even the scary ones. I won’t go into all the reasons here, but if you’re curious, I recommend reading this post.
All that said, I loved Hansel and Gretel as a kid, and so do my own kids. In fact, my Four recently illustrated her own version of the tale and then brought it to me – asking me to add the words that she supplied. “Ha ha ha ha ha ha!” (spoken in her version of a witch’s cackle) “Now I am going to fatten you up!”
So I hope you enjoy this list!
Hansel and Gretel, by James Marshall
I am a huge fan of James Marshall’s silly books, so this is my favorite version of Hansel and Gretel. Since we own it, I’m sure I’ve read it over one hundred times (and I really don’t mind). The story itself is true to the original story, but Marshall’s comic illustrations and funny dialogue lighten the mood. My favorite line is when the witch discovers the children nibbling on her house. “Well, look at this! Two tasty – uh, pretty children have come to stay!”
Hansel and Gretel, by Rachel Isadora
What I love about this book is the beautiful African illustrations. What disappointed me was that if you didn’t see the pictures, you’d have no idea that this story was set in Africa. I had hoped to see different character names and story details – but it was exactly the same as the traditional German story. Maybe I’m alone in feeling this way, but the book was a disappointment.
Hansel & Gretel, by Holly Hobbie
This is a beautiful version of the classic tale, with wonderful storytelling and vocabulary. (“A woman, bent and withered with age, suddenly stepped into view. ‘Who dares to nibble at my delicious house?'”) Not only is the story wonderful, but the watercolor illustrations are breathtaking.
I noticed in an Amazon review that one person thought the book was too dark for children. The traditional story is indeed dark, but children have been loving the story of Hansel and Gretel for generations. I definitely recommend this one.
Hansel and Gretel, by Cynthia Rylant
Cynthia Rylant is one of my favorite children’s book authors, and not surprisingly, she found a way to put her own voice into the familiar story. Her subtle references to spirituality feel a little odd to me, but overall we enjoyed the story. The pictures are beautiful and less scary than in other versions.
Hansel and Gretel, by Rika Lesser
The stunning artwork by Paul O. Zelinksy makes this my second favorite book of the bunch. One thing I find interesting is that the wife is called the mother, and not the stepmother. Your child will want to jump right into the book to eat that beautiful house!
Hansel and Gretel, illustrated by Susan Jeffers
This is a lovely retelling, but even more striking are the beautiful illustrations by Susan Jeffers. The story itself is true to the original story and may be a bit darker than other versions. This didn’t bother my kids at all; they were entranced.
Hansel & Gretel, by Will Moses
If you have some extra time and a patient listener, consider this beautiful version. While the story itself is engaging (if a bit long), what truly shines is the artwork. I love the full page illustrations in beautiful folk art style.
Trust Me, Hansel and Gretel are Sweet!, by Nancy Loewen
This is a fun book to read when you are teaching your learners about point of view. While the witch lives in a gingerbread house, she didn’t create it to lure unsuspecting children; she just likes to play with her food! When two small children nibble her masterpiece, the witch is enraged. But when she hears their story, she becomes their loving guardian. This is not the most spectacular piece of literature, but it offers a fun perspective.
I hope you found some new books to get at your library! Be sure to check out my other posts about familiar fairy tales:
- Different versions of The Little Red Hen
- Different versions of The Three Billy Goats Gruff
- Different versions of The Princess and the Pea
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Reader’s Theater Scripts – Familiar Tales for Grades 1-3
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