In this recent retelling of Snow White set in 1930s New York, not only is Snow White’s father responsible for the misfortune of many, he is also responsible for making her life miserable, as he remarries the “Queen” of the Ziegfeld Follies, who of course needs to be the fairest of them all.

In this version of the story readers with knowledge of the historical time period may make the connection between Snow’s father, the King of Wall Street, and the Great Depression. Meanwhile the Queen reads printouts from an old-timey stock ticker to find out who is the fairest of them all. What a commentary on the connection between capitalism and vanity!

Matt Phelan is a reader favorite for his focus on children and young adolescent protagonists and his use of watercolors. Phelan knows that some of the best stories for children and teens are felt rather than read, and he has mastered placing gestures and images first. Dialogue is minimalistic and takes a back seat to drawing out the story.

Phelan’s color palette and pacing contributes to the overall bleakness of the time period. By using mostly grey colors and by judiciously alternating between full-page images and sequences with generous white spaces, Phelan is able to play with his story. The Queen often appears in full-page spreads, giving a sense of how much power she wields. On the other hand, Snow White often appears in thin, narrow strips, emphasizing her smallness and innocence.

Unfortunately, character development and complexity gets a little lost in the service of a full-on creepy and fast-paced story. We don’t get much about the Queen besides her full lips and her habit of lingering in the shadows. We also don’t learn much about “the Seven” who rescue and protect Snow White from evil outsiders. And we don’t learn much about my favorite character, Mr. Hunt, aside from the fact that he knows he made a lust-filled deal to pursue Snow White.

I was also [spoilers ahead!] disappointed by Phelan’s faithfulness to Disney endings, and I felt that this faithfulness to a “Happily Ever After” was not only abrupt, it also undermined what was otherwise a creepy cautionary tale about greed.

Snow White 
by Matt Phelan
ISBN: 9780763672331
Candlewick, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14

  • Amy Estersohn

    | She/Her Past Reviewer

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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