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Rapunzel, A Groovy Fairy Tale

This 2003 retelling of the classic story is another retro-style offering from Lynn and David Roberts, who also produced Cinderella.

Rapunzel is a 1970s teenager living with her deeply unpleasant Aunt Edna.  Edna is a leather-wearing crow-toting semi-sadistic dinner lady who dishes out vile meals to the children at school then sends Roach (the crow) to steal their scarves, belts and hair ribbons.  Clearly a control freak, she keeps Rapunzel locked up at the top of their tower block.  The elevator is broken, so naturally it is Rapunzel’s long red hair that she uses to scale the outside of the building instead of taking the stairs.  One day, a young lad called Roger (who also happens to be the dead cool lead singer of the local band, Roger and the Rascals) sees Edna climbing Rapunzel’s hair and decides to investigate.  Rapunzel and Roger quickly become friends, and plan to escape so Rapunzel can explore the city she has never seen.  But when Edna finds out their plans, things look very bleak for the young friends.

David Roberts’ illustrations are once again spot on in their recreation of the period.  The characters’ clothes in particular are beautifully drawn, and Roger’s check, furred jacket, bell-bottoms and platform shoes are very apt.  The design of the tower block too has many vintage elements: there are three flying ducks on the wall of the living room, and Rapunzel’s room is postered with images of John Travolta, Debbie Harry and ABBA.  When Rapunzel is banished from home, the tone becomes darker. Dubious-looking punks hang out on a street corner and two homeless people huddle around a brazier.

The text is fluent and detailed, whilst remaining straightforward.  The innocent but loving relationship between Rapunzel and her ‘prince’ is pitched just right for the age of those reading it, and it is nice to see a picture book promoting an uncomplicated close friendship between a boy and a girl.  There is even a strike for feminisim at the end as Rapunzel sets up her own business – making wigs, naturally!

An old story well-retold and a beautiful example of the illustrator’s art.

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Cinderella

This is a beautifully presented re-telling of the classic tale.

The text is by Lynn Roberts and the story is illustrated by her brother David.  Their version is set, very elegantly, in an Art-deco style.  Cinderella’s ball-gown is a flapper dress with long pearls; her transport to the ball is an enormous Rolls Royce; the wicked step-mother’s feather hair ornament is about three feet long, and Cinderella watches her sisters depart for the ball with a copy of Vogue in her apron and a couple of Clarice Cliff mugs on the draining board.  The drawings are delicate and detailed, with many tiny things for observant little eyes to spot, and full of humour.  One rather green-faced ugly sister clutches an ice-pack to her head the morning after the Ball, and the two of them are seen making a real effort to spoil the wedding photos on the last page.

Lynn Roberts’ text is a strong one.  The story is fleshed out with details like Cinderella’s name (Greta), and those of the step-sisters, Elvira and Ermintrude: “Elvira was as wicked as Ermintrude was dim, and Ermintrude was very, very dim.”  The writing is fluent and easy to read. “In a time not too long ago, and in a land much like our own, there lived a young and beautiful girl…”  The words are quite sophisticated and there is a subtlety to the humour that would suit slightly older children, so given this and the length it is probably better for the over-threes, but bookish two year olds would definitely enjoy it.

A classic story lifted out of the ordinary by the elegant detail of the period setting.