Celebrating Hansel & Gretel with Bethan Woollvin

I’ve loved Bethan Woollvin’s fractured, humorous, and subversive fairy tales for many years now. My own two kids have read Little Red until it’s falling apart. These books beg to be read aloud. Kids recite the repeating phrases, gasp at unexpected twists, and cheer for the heroines of the story.

Last year, our 2nd graders Skyped with Bethan to celebrate the release of Rapunzel. This year, we were over-the-moon excited that Peachtree Publishers brought her to our school as part of her US tour for her new book Hansel and Gretel.

In Hansel and Gretel, Willow the witch is a witch who only uses her magic for good. Hansel and Gretel are two mischievous and naughty kids who only think of themselves.  Willow tries her best to be nice to them along the way as they eat her house, gobble up all of her food, and wreak havoc with her magical things.  Can Willow continue to use her magic for good or is it time for Hansel and Gretel to be taught a lesson?  You’ll just have to read this fractured fairy tale to find out.

Ahead of Bethan’s visit, all classes in K-3 read all 3 of her books.  With each reading, students noticed similarities and differences between the tales.  They noticed the bravery of Rapunzel and Red.  They noticed the color scheme of black, white, and gray with a pop of a bright color. They noticed the hidden pictures underneath dust jackets and end papers.  In art, students worked on creating scenes of their own versions of fairy tales.  We hung this art in the hallways of the front of the school.

Our third graders all designed candy for a giant gingerbread house outside the library that I made out of some pumpkin spice tablecloth. My high school intern created Bethan Woollvin’s iconic eyes to go on the door of the library.

In classrooms, students also created their own Hansel & Gretel puppets, which were provided to us by Peachtree Publishers.  Many of them brought their puppets to the visit to hold up as Bethan shared the story.

Bethan presented 2 times: once for K-1 and once for 2-3.  She showed England on a map along with some childhood pictures.  We got a peek at her studio where she creates her illustrations.  One of my favorite parts was seeing how she creates the characters in her books.  She created some time lapse videos to show us how she begins with a pencil and then fills in the details one color at a time.

She also showed students how the illustrations changed over time.  They started as sketches but then went through several versions before reaching the final version found in the books. It was great to see how artists revise too and things aren’t perfect the first time.

Another great surprise was seeing how Bethan’s little sister created a drawing that inspired the ending of Hansel and Gretel.

Students loved watching Bethan draw many of her characters.  At one point, she sat in the middle of the floor amongst the students and drew. Students loved having her right in the middle of all of them, even if it did cause a stir of energy.

As always, students went back to class buzzing with excitement about the visit.  Our PTA bought a copy of Hansel & Gretel for all the class libraries and many students also purchased copies that Bethan autographed.  I can’t wait to see what projects, stories, and art spark from this visit.

Thank you, Bethan, for taking time to share your expertise with our school.  Thank you Peachtree Publishers and Avid Bookshop for bringing this opportunity to our students. It was truly a special day for all of us.

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