Saturday, September 12, 2009

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

Zel, by Donna Jo Napoli, is a re-telling of the classic fairytale, Rapunzel. I admit that when I started reading Zel, I expected a light fluffy story. I also admit that it had been a very long time since I've read the fairytale version. I should have refreshed my memory.

In Zel, Rapunzel is a young girl living a very happy life with Mother. She knows that Mother has a special gift with plants but she doesn't know the extent of her abilities or the reason she has the gift in the first place. When Zel meets a young count on one of her rare trips into the village, she expresses a desire to ultimately marry and have children of her own. Mother's fear of losing Zel is so great that she locks her in a tower. The story continues as Zel begins to lose her mind due to her confinement and lack of companionship. She is not aware that the count has been searching for her for years.

I didn't expect some of the darker elements of the story. There was a great deal of madness in Mother's attempts to protect her child and keep her with her forever. Zel's own madness is more understandable because of her circumstances. This morning I read Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky for comparison and recognize many of the same elements to the story. What Ms. Napoli does is expand on everything to give us an understanding into everything.

Zel is a wonderfully written novel length re-telling of the classic. While it is a children's book, I definitely recommend it for young teens or older. There are adult situations later in the story and it may bring up questions. I recommend it very highly and also encourage you to pick up another version of the story to make your own comparisons. Mr. Zelinsky's gorgeous book won the Caldecott Medal and his illustrations are stunning.

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