Saturday, June 22, 2013

Traditional Literature Review: Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky

RAPUNZEL by Paul O. Zelinsky

Zelinsky, Paul O. 1997. RAPUNZEL. New York, NY: Dutton. ISBN: 0525456074

Taken away because of a foolish bargain, Rapunzel is raised by an old sorceress since the day she was born.  To keep her hidden away from the world, the sorceress takes Rapunzel to a hidden tower in the middle of the forest.  There she spends her years imprisoned in the door-less tower where she is only visited by the old sorceress.  Because the tower has no doors, the only way to reach Rapunzel is to climb up her long, golden hair.  One day, a prince hears Rapunzel’s beautiful voice and her life is changed forever.

The classic tale of Rapunzel comes to life in Zelinsky’s retelling through stunning artwork and traditional storytelling.  Told through a narrative voice, a backstory of how Rapunzel came to live in the tower gives you a feeling of pity for her and the circumstances of her situation.  She is taken away at birth by a sorceress and seems to be truly loved, even though she is imprisoned in a tall, door-less tower at the age of twelve. Rapunzel is so used to the daily repetition of the phrase “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,” by the sorceress, that even when it’s said in a male’s voice she doesn’t think twice about letting her hair down.  Rather than relief to see the prince come through her window, she is shocked and says “Heaven preserve me!”  Rapunzel had never seen a man before and her expression matches her words.  Eventually, the prince’s kind manner and voice wins her trust and her heart.  The prince and Rapunzel secretly marry and it’s not until Rapunzel becomes pregnant that the sorceress finds out her secret and banishes her from the tower.  Like most fairy tale stories there is a bit of magical elements such as when the prince falls from the tower after the sorceress tricks him yet survives, and when he goes blind he is miraculously healed by Rapunzel’s tears.  Of course, this would not be a fairy tale without its happy ending – when the prince finds Rapunzel again and they live happily with their children in his kingdom. This traditional fairy tale classic can be shared with readers young and old, but some younger children may have difficulty understanding why the sorceress was so angry with Rapunzel when her dress didn’t fit.  Older children may be able to infer the meaning.  In the end, this timeless story continues to reassure its readers that love conquers all.

In every page you turn, the oil paintings capture you with its superb quality and amazing attention to detail.  Zelinsky’s building designs and landscapes are expertly chosen to depict the beautiful Italian Renaissance time period.  The clothing of the characters also gives you the romantic and whimsical aspects of this era and story setting.  Zelinsky spares no minor detail in his illustrations, from the realistic characters to the rich, intricate backgrounds and landscaping; the artwork is truly remarkable on every page.


Caldecott Honor Award

ABC Children’s Booksellers Choice Award, 1998

BOOKLIST review: “Children--and adults--will pore over the intricate detail and glowing colors; they will also be moved by the mysterious tale of nurture and passion and terror.”

HORN BOOK starred review: "Simply put, this is a gorgeous book; it demonstrates respect for the traditions of painting and the fairy tale while at the same time adhering to a singular, wholly original, artistic vision." (

* This book is great to share with children of all ages to appreciate classic literature and teach fairytale story themes.

*Collect other books written and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky such as: RUMPELSTILTSKIN, HANSEL AND GRETEL, and SWAMP ANGEL.

*Other books featuring the retelling of the classic story of Rapunzel:
McCafferty, Catherine. RAPUNZEL. ISBN: 157768379X

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