Picture Books

Hans My Hedgehog by Kate Coombs, Illustrated by John Nickle | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I tried to contact the Brothers Grimm in a seance to see if they had any long lost manuscripts I could pawn on eBay, but there was no response. Cover art is copyright of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.*

Once upon a time there was a couple who looked like they stepped out of a Renaissance painting. Like many people who are comprised of paint, they were infertile. They wished more than anything for a child. Their wish came true and they had a baby boy. This baby boy was a hedgehog with human legs. Because this couple were so literal, they named their son Hans My Hedgehog.

This is a retelling of Hans My Hedgehog, a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Kate Coomb’s writing is seemless and John Nickle’s illustrations complement the fairy tale genre.

“Each note slipped between
the trees like a spell.
The pigs, listening below,
were steeped in magic.”

Hans – like most hedgehogs – is a bit of a loner. A self-proclaimed outcast if you will. He spends his time in the forest, frolicking with pigs, playing the fiddle, and flying on a rooster. Seems legit. The probability of a rooster flying expertly while being ridden by a hedgehog is on par with fairies, and this is a fairy tale.

Hans lives near two kingdoms. Both of these kingdoms are run by monarchs with no sense of direction, who each decide to go off on their own, and subsequently get lost in the forest. Hans helps both kings in turn, but asks that in return for his help they give him the first thing that they meet when they get home. This “thing” in both men’s cases is their daughters. Talk about objectifying women! The question is, which king will deliver when Hans comes to collect? Yes, that does sound creepy. Because it is.

This is a (marginally) less messed up retelling of Hans My Hedgehog. It’s still whack and rife with objectification and misogyny, but the original story is maximum cringe. Hans is more romanticised in this version. I’m not sure this is a good thing, but it makes for a nice story to read to your children, so that they can be traumatised by the original fairy tale later in life.

2.3 out of 5 stars
*Atheneum’s parents are Simon & Schuster. They are very proud.

Picture Books

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf | Book Review

Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for this review. I didn’t even get a cup of sugar. Cover art is copyright of Scholastic.

This is the story of Alexander T. Wolf as dictated to Jon Scieszka. It is illustrated by Lane Smith in browns, greys and dusty colours. It tells the tale of how Alexander – aka Al – was baking a cake for his sick granny when he ran out of sugar.

This is Al’s side of the “Three Little Pigs” story, which seeks to paint him as the victim of the whole ordeal. Excuse me while I scoff. I read this story and Al is far from innocent. Why? Al commits serial manslaughter.

I understand why Al would be reluctant to call the police – or a huntsman – in the aftermath of each of these incidents. Racially motivated police brutality is not the best incentive to call the authorities when you’re a wolf who has just committed manslaughter. Yet Al’s reaction to each of these accidents is ill-advised to say the least. It isn’t even the panic-induced “Whoops I just killed someone, what to do?” trope you see in the movies. It’s far more detached, which is a little unnerving.

I do not understand why Al would go door to door asking for a cup of sugar. He’s got one neighbour who’s so poor he had to build a house out of straw, one who’s busy and racist, and another who’s angry and racist. He must not know his neighbours at all, and who asks strangers for a cup of sugar?

While I don’t find Al guiltless in his actions, he is villainised by the media. They use the most threatening-looking photograph of him they can find and buzzwords like “big” and “bad” to describe him. It is spun to depict him – and wolves in general – as dangerous. This is shown on the cover page of “The Daily Pig” (All the News that’s Fit for Pigs) with the headline “Big Bad Wolf,” which includes an image of a wolf’s teeth with the caption “Seen as Menace.”

‘The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs’ is an interesting one to read with an objective eye. It does not depict A. Wolf as blameless but it does highlight how the media intertwines prejudice and sensationalism.

3 out of 5 stars