Posted in fairy tales, picture books

Review: Into the Forest, by Anthony Browne

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Image courtesy of amazon.co.uk

Please be aware that this review contains spoilers, so please don’t read Sam’s review if you don’t wish to know them!

What it’s about: (taken from the blurb on the back)

‘Dad was gone and Mum didn’t seem to know when he’d be back. Mum asked me to take a cake to Grandma, who was poorly. She told me to go the long way round, but I wanted to be home in case Dad came back. So, instead, I chose the forbidden path into the forest…’

Holly’s review: This book is its own book but also links other fairytale books into it and you only really realise some of them by looking at the pictures and occasionally you need a little help by the words. I think this book is absolutely amazing because of all the beautiful pictures and writing and one story links into loads of others. This is also a bit of an odd book. But in a good, confusing sort of way that is hard to explain. Overall, I think this book is a truly amazing but yet a bizarre book.

Sam’s review: Hmm… I don’t know where to start with this book. I had heard many good things about it and it certainly impressed me with the level of skill and intertextuality in it, as Holly points out in her review. Not only do you have the boy’s story, told in the first person (therefore giving the book more immediacy for the reader), you also have a surreal experience that he goes through on his way to his grandmother. This draws in fairytale influences through the characters he meets on his way. The journey itself is immediately identifiable to that of Little Red Riding Hood, as he is told to take a cake to his sick grandma, but to not take the short cut through the wood. Of course he does but not just to rebel – he wants to get back home more quickly in case his dad, who has mysteriously disappeared, comes back.

This is where I get stuck with this book. While I applaud Browne’s amazing attention to detail in his pictures, which keep you intrigued for ages as you spot clues from popular fairy tales, I became angry with the mother in the book. Why did she not tell the boy where the father had gone? The reader is kept in what I presume to be similar suspense as the boy’s as to why the dad has left and why there is no indication of where he is.  Browne doesn’t really shed any further light on what has happened – the boy opens the door to grandma’s house, convinced he will meet the wolf, and instead encounters both his grandma and his dad. The mother’s expression at the beginning suggests great sadness – had he died? Disappeared? But the end has him reunited with his family, so was she just worried about grandma being ill? Or did the couple have an argument?

Fairy tales, according to Freudian child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, have the purpose of allowing children to experience their fears – primarily those relating to parental abandonment – in a safe arena. Children are drawn into a fantasy world, which they can easily identify as fictional, where they can see the worst possible things happen and a resolution be reached by the end. This happens in Into the Forest but resolution is not really reached by the boy’s actions (which could therefore otherwise be seen as empowering). The journey through the forest is undoubtedly a psychological one, as he meets other fairy tale characters who have experienced fear and/or abandonment or rejection by their parents – all symbolised through Browne’s greyscale pictures. His ending at grandma’s, the climax in a series of tension-building encounters, is pictorially cathartic: colours flood the page again. This is a Happy Ever After, but there is no real sense of satisfaction – what caused the unhappiness before? In fairy tales, the wrongdoing of the parents or guardians is explicit – here, there is just confusion.

 

We would love to hear your views on this story – please do share!

 

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Author:

Childtastic Books started out as a collaborative blog, written by me and my young daughter Holly. Now she's nearly a teen, she's off doing exciting and new things but I am still here, reading, writing and reviewing books for children and young adults of all ages. I miss her input but I hope she will pop in from time to time to do some guest posts! A little about me - I have just finished an MA in Children's Literature from the University of Roehampton (result pending, eeek) and am a part-time primary school librarian. The other part of my time is spent writing and editing, my own work and others, and I am waiting for my first non-fiction book to be published - a teacher resources pack for Handa's Surprise. I welcome comments and love to hear from visitors to this blog. Please note though that, because of time constraints, it is rare that I can read and review books from self-published authors. I receive so many requests and feel badly about not being able to keep up with them all. Thanks for visiting! Sam

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