GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER – 1986
Oxford University Press, 1986
Interests: updated fairy tales, New York, 1920s flapper era, art styles, fashion
Next: Ella’s Big Chance (a Cinderella update also set in the 1920s)
Once upon a time in New York there was a poor little rich girl named Snow White.
The familiar fairy tale is revised and updated to a wild, flapper era, art deco New York City. Snow White’s stepmother is linked to the mob and instead of gazing into a magic mirror she consults the New York Mirror newspaper. Abandoned in the deep, dark city, Snow White falls in with seven jazzmen and starts to sing for her keep, to great acclaim. The poison apple is now a cherry in a cocktail, and Snow White ends up marrying a newspaper reporter instead of a prince.
The story is snappy and smart, although only older children will fully appreciate the modern modifications, ie. magic mirror now a newspaper. The illustrations successfully capture the aesthetics and verve of the time – some children will be fascinated by the fashions and stylized, Erté-ish artwork. (I know I would have been, at around age 8 or 9.)
That said, this book is a little distant and uninvolving. On the first page we get a full-page look at the wicked stepmother but Snow White is but a tiny blip on the page. Character development takes a back seat here to the artistic style. Snow White is shown as a fashion plate with a mask-like face; any moments of high drama or emotion (being abandoned in the city, swallowing the poison cherry) are either presented in wide, wide shot (with characters teeny tiny) or skipped over entirely.
For an interesting comparison, see Shirley Hughes’s Ella’s Big Chance, which updates Cinderella to 1920s New York as well, but focusses on the characters and emotions, has loads more warmth and is much more satisfying in the end.
Jazzy, fast and smart, but a little distant and cold, this book will be most appreciated by older children who will enjoy the art and the new twists on an old tale. (Or by younger children with a keen interest in fashion or art.)