Snow White by Matt Phelan

Snow White is a lovely retelling of the classic fairy tale, this time placing the setting in 1920s New York City. Phelan cleverly updates several aspects of the tale while still keeping the sweetness of the inspiration material intact. Nearly wordless, the beautiful watercolor pencils tell most of the story perfectly.

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The setting is nicely researched and all the characters drawn very much in the style of the era: pageboy caps on boys, rosy cheeks on our Snow White, cupid’s bow lips on our femme fatale stepmother. It perfectly evokes jazz age and then the pre-deco world. As well, New York City is very much a character of the book: from Ziegfield Follies to the ‘magic’ of a Macy’s Christmas window. I always appreciate historical accuracy; especially in this case with the transitioning from 1910s to 1920s as Snow grows up.

The illustrations are pencils and watercolor – with enough detail to show the emotion but also create an ethereal quality. Each page typically has four or five panels, each artfully arranged as needed to tell the story. From the ‘lost boys’ dwarves to Samantha “Snow” White, each character is beautifully illustrated.

If I had one nitpick, it’s that the evil step mother was perhaps a bit too maniacal looking in a lot of the panels. I would have liked to see a bit more subtlety there as was done with Snow and the Boys. But in all, that is a minor quibble for a beautifully presented fairy tale suitable for small children and adults. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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