Adapted and illustrated by Jane Ray
Candlewick Press, 2009
$19.99, ages 3 and up, 10 pages
Reading through Ray's 3-D adaptation of the Brothers Grimm's Snow White evokes the same wondrous feeling as peering into a dollhouse through a miniature window.
Designed to look like a theater, this fascinating book is made up of six two-page spreads that resemble a stage in different acts. The reader is the audience, sitting before the stage, looking into scenes angling back to the fold and following text by flipping open red curtains to either side.
Ray creates a sense of depth similar to that of dioramas in natural history museums by allowing the spreads to open no further than a 120 degree angle. This allows two layers of delicately cut trees, beams, walls, windows and people to appear on the stage against a scenic backdrop.
At first it's awkward not to open the book flat and you struggle to find a comfortable way to read it in your lap, but the more you gaze into Ray's magical scenes, the less focused you become on the book's restrictions. You find yourself transported into the fairy tale in a way that flat images may suggest but normally can't show.
The first act, staged to look like a winter wonderland, sets the magical mood of the book: with the queen standing at a stone balcony adorned with bare vines and ornate columns as snow falls in the woods and birds look on from icy perches. Staying true to the 1857 fairy tale, the queen pricks her finger and wistfully wishes for a child with lips as red as the drop of blood that falls from her finger.
The queen, as we know, realizes her dream but dies soon after Snow White's birth, and in the second act, we leap ahead in time to find Snow White, now a young girl, playing on the floor of the castle with her cat. Across from her on stage right, her wicked stepmother, the new queen, glowers at her magic mirror on the wall, which has just informed her that Snow White is the fairer beauty.
In act three, the story shifts to spring; trees are bursting with leaves and blossoms, and squirrels are scampering from tree to tree as a deer wanders into the scene. The huntsman, unable to follow through with the queen's orders to kill Snow White, is seen departing with his bow and arrows, as Snow White runs deeper into the forest toward a brick cottage where seven dwarves are busily tending to chores.
By act four, the queen has already made her sinister entrance into the forest, dressed as an old peddler woman. As we look over a picket fence and through trees, we see Snow White standing at a cottage window, as the queen cinches a belt to her waist. Behind the curtain on stage left, we learn that the queen eventually pulls the belt so tightly that Snow White can't breath. But fortunately the dwarves discover Snow White passed out in time to revive her.
Turning to act five, we open the curtain on stage right to learn that the queen has again tried to hurt Snow White, this time by slipping a poisoned comb in her hair, and again the dwarves save the day. On stage, however, the scene is very somber. As we look past a wooden beam hung with hats and shawls, we see the dwarfs crowded around Snow White, who is unconscious on the floor, having bitten into a poisonous apple, the last attempt by the queen to hurt her.
But luckily this story has a fairy tale ending, and turning to the last act, we look through the trees to see Snow White many years later in the arms of a prince who is about to kiss her. Fittingly, as we learn behind the curtains, it wasn't the kiss that saved her, as the Disney version goes. Nor was it the clumsiness of the prince's servants, as the Grimm tale suggests. In Ray's remake, it was a dwarf who tripped trying to lift Snow White's glass coffin who dislodged the poisonous apple from her throat.
The format of Ray's book and her lush scenes really set this version of Snow White apart. When opened on its side to a favorite act and displayed on a dresser top, it's as alluring as a dollhouse. You can't help but peek in and imagine what it would be like to wander through the scene.