This is one of those books that we kept checking out of the library so often that I finally just went out and bought a copy.
I love the idea of illustrating a story with paintings inspired by the Italian Renaissance masters – as well as setting the story in Italy, with rich details of Italian architecture and the Italian countryside. I first picked up the book because of the illustrations, but when I sat down with my children and actually read it to them, I was delighted with the text as well. It is a clear, well-written retelling of the Rapunzel story that explores ideas and themes that most versions of the story either gloss over or completely ignore.
Zelinsky researched the origins of the fairytale and incorporated elements from its precursors, a Neapolitan story called “Petrosinella,” and a seventeeth-century French version, among others, which give his telling a depth that many others lack. For example, the sorceress doesn’t lock Rapunzel in the tower because she’s evil or mean; it appears, instead, a misguided attempt to keep Rapunzel safe, to shelter her from the dangerous outside world. She treats Rapunzel well, and the tower is magically bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside, so despite her imprisonment, Rapunzel at least has plenty of room to move around.
The Renaissance-style illustrations, paired with the text, give the book an otherworldly fairytale feel that keep us coming back to it again and again. This one definitely has a place in any fairytale collection.
Awards: Caldecott Medal, ALA Notable Book, Horn Book Fanfare - 1998
Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky (Dutton Children's Books, 1997)
Publisher recommends for ages 4 - 8