Zelinsky, Paul O. Rapunzel. Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Dutton, 1997. ISBN 0-525-45607-4. $16.99. 40 pp.” 1-8 PB Reviewed by Robert L. Maxwell Caldecott Honor medalist Paul Zelinsky has created another masterpiece in his retelling and illustration of Rapunzel. The story is familiar, but thanks to Zelinsky's extensive research into its origins, we are not simply given another version of the Grimms' story; rather, that and earlier versions are combined. The witch is much more sympathetically portrayed than in most versions. Here, rather than a wicked kidnapper who is mean to Rapunzel, she is a loving mother, concerned for her adopted daughter's welfare. As usual, the birth parents, necessary to set the stage, disappear after the old woman comes to claim the baby-in Zelinsky's version, they are irrelevant to the relationship that unfolds between the witch and Rapunzel. We catch our first glimpse of this relationship in a full two-page spread that illustrates the taking of baby Rapunzel. The old woman tenderly embraces the baby, and the two gaze lovingly into each other's eyes while the birth parents-the mother still attended by a midwife-sadly look on. This scene takes place daily in the modern world when children are adopted, and perhaps this is why this version seems familiar. This is followed by a scene of Rapunzel, about six, dancing by a stream while the old woman watches benignly, embroidering. The mood darkens when twelve-year-old Rapunzel is led to the tower. But when we see it, the tower is a palace-a graceful Renaissance campanile built of multi-colored marbles, and possessing the magical property of being narrow outside, but spacious and luxurious within. The handsome prince gains access to Rapunzel in the usual manner, and they enjoy each other's company for some time; they secretly marry. When this is revealed by Rapunzel's naive complaint to the witch that her dress seems to be getting tighter, the witch of the text shrieks,”You wicked child!” You have betrayed me!” But the old woman of the illustration show horror and grief at the revelation. This is a woman reacting as any mother would to the news that her teenage daughter is pregnant. The witch takes her revenge, but Rapunzel, the prince, and their young children are soon reunited and claim their kingdom. Zelinsky's oil paintings, in the manner of Italian Renaissance (appropriately, as the original tale was Italian), are stunning and work hand in hand with the text to tell the story. The inspiration of the masters is evident on every page, none more so than the final painting of a family grouping reminiscent of Leonardo's Virgin and Child with St. Anne and John the Baptist. Zelinsky also provides a fascinating three-page note about Rapunzel in which he tells the history of this tale, from its origins as a Neapolitan folk tale, to its publication in the nineteenth century by the Grimm brothers. This has to be one of the most beautiful children's books to be produced in a long time. Note: This book received the 1998 Caldecott Medal.
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