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Gingerbread Man Book Reviews

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The Gingerbread Man – Book Reviews by Susan Fry

I’ve never understood the popularity of the Gingerbread Man.  In the original fairy tale, an old man and woman make a Gingerbread Man who suddenly pops up and runs away.  The cooks and a variety of animals pursue him. “You can’t catch me,” he taunts them.  “I’m the Gingerbread man!”  In the end, a wily fox eats him.

The story has been retold and retold since 1875.  It’s even been “translated” to other cultures, with runaway tortillas, matzos, and rice cakes.

Why?  The story is yawningly repetitive:  with each additional pursuer, the Gingerbread Man lists all the other animals he’s escaped.  All of them.  And he dies in the end!  Is he being punished for being uppity, or is the story just a harsh lesson about life?

That’s why I was so relieved to find the following books.  They create original and entertaining spinoffs, perhaps because they take the Gingerbread Man and . . . run with him.

Gingerbread Baby, by Jan Brett.  You can recognize Jan Brett’s illustrations at a glance.  The warmly colored scenes have a strong Scandinavian flair, with characters dressed in Nordic clothes from an earlier century, snowy landscapes, and carved wooden furniture.  Brett also uses a unique story-telling technique:  her decorated margins often reveal glimpses of other characters’ adventures.

When Little Matti and his mother make a gingerbread boy, Matti peeks in the oven too early.  Out jumps a gingerbread baby, instead!  This Gingerbread Baby kicks the chase up a notch:  he rides a cat’s back, ties two girls’ braids together, and sails down a river on a chunk of ice.  Meanwhile, Matti stays home and bakes a gingerbread house.  The fleeing baby hides inside, and while everyone else assumes he’s been eaten, Matti knows the truth.

Brett manages to create a gratifying and believable friendship between the thoughtful, caring Matti and the daring Gingerbread Baby.

The Gingerbread Girl, by Lisa Campbell Ernst.  The old man and woman bake the Gingerbread Boy’s “younger, wiser sister.”  This Gingerbread Girl refuses to wind up like her brother.  In the end, she rides the fox like a bucking bronco, leading all her pursuers back home for snacks.  The verses are interesting rather than repetitive, as the girl says something different to everyone chasing her.  The homey gingham-patterned backgrounds help create a portrait of a close farming community.

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery.  The schoolchildren who bake the Gingerbread Man leave him behind during recess.  When the lonely Gingerbread Man chases them, the gym coach has to unstick him from a volleyball, the nurse needs to repair his broken-off toe, and the art teacher must extricate him from a lunch bag.  Just when the Gingerbread Man has nearly given up hope, he discovers the children have been missing him, too.  The cartoons are comic-book style, with multiple panels per page and word balloons.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

You can check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos’ children’s books page for quick access to all of Susan’s wonderful children’s book reviews.


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