Translated By: Randall Jarrell
Illustrated By: Nancy Ekholm Burkert
The German version of Snow White collected by the Brothers Grimm is one of the best-known versions of the classic tale. The Brothers Grimm version featured some of the well-known elements of Snow White such as the magic mirror and the seven dwarfs. The Brothers Grimm version, translated into English by Randall Jarrell, begins with the story of how Snow White came to be. “Once it was the middle of winter, and the snowflakes fell from the sky like feathers. At a window with a frame of ebony a queen sat and sewed. And as she sewed and looked out at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell in the snow. And in the white snow the red looked so beautiful that she thought to herself: “If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood in the window frame!”” The story continues as with the main plot being what we would expect—the Queen dies, the father remarries an evil step-mother, and the mother plots to kill Snow White because she is envious and jealous of her beauty.
Since this version is a literal translation of the Brothers Grimm version, it is certainly authentic. Jarrell even chose to leave in the original Grimm ending, where the stepmother had to put on red-hot slippers and dance till she dropped down dead. This ending leaves a bit of a different taste than the Disney version of, “And they lived happily ever after.” Although the evil stepmother got what she deserved, it for some reason seemed more horrifying of a death than the three that Snow White had faced—perhaps it was because we knew she would survive all along.
What is interesting about this version of Snow-White is that Jarrell and illustrator Burkert alternated between side-by-side pages of strictly text, and double-paged, full-bleed illustrations. The only time they did not use this technique was in the very beginning of the story when the illustration of Snow White’s mother is on the left page and the text beginning the story is on the right. Since so much happened in the story on the pages with text, it was interesting to turn the page and see what details Burkert decided to focus on for her illustrations. For example, Jarrell groups the events of the dwarfs saving Snow-White from the lacing that is tied to tight, the stepmother coming back to kill Snow-White with a poisoned comb, her coming back to life again, and the stepmother devising a plan to make a poisoned apple all in one spread. Burkert chose to focus on the stepmother creating the poisoned apple in her next illustration.
The intricate details of the beautiful illustrations will capture the interest of readers and have them spending just as much time looking at the pictures as they do reading the text. The first illustration is when Snow-White is running through the woods—never to return home to her evil stepmother. The page is completely saturated with muted shades of brown, black, blue, and yellow. Our attention is drawn to Snow-White as her brightly colored yellow and blue dress stand out against the otherwise dreary forest. The animals all seem curious as to why she is in the forest, but none seem to bother her. They all seem to be running away—as if sensing the danger she carries with her.
As we are introduced to the seven dwarfs, there is a wider variety of color used in the illustrations. Although never bright, the colors are less muted than they were previously. This seems to signify that Snow-White is safe and happy with her new found life with the dwarfs. Burkert continues to vary her color palate in order to reflect the happiness or sadness that we are to feel. The illustrations are widely framed and leave only about a centimeter outside of the picture. This allows readers to feel emotionally drawn in to each scene—yet gives readers a little bit of distance in order to feel safe.
Although I think the illustrations along with this version of the story may be a bit frightful for children, illustrator Nancy Ekholm Burkert won the Caldecott Honor for her illustrations in this book. Kirkus Reviews, as found on Amazon called the collaboration between Randall Jarrell and Burkert, “a sort of legend even before its time of publication.” An Amazon review states, “Burkert’s illustrations are magical, light-filled creations that more than earn the book its Caldecott Honor Book status…This is an unforgettable interpretation of a well-loved story.”