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Review of INTO THE FOREST by Anthony Browne

by Andrea L. Williams

Browne, Anthony. 2004. INTO THE FOREST. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763625446

This story is unlike any routine fairy tale. An unnamed boy wakes up in bed and finds out that his dad has disappeared. The sparse but minutely drawn illustrations show a mother who has told her son Dad will come back but she looks so depressed and so powerless her words are not easily believable. Meanwhile the mother asks the child to visit a sick Grandma in order to take her a bit of cake. Mom of course expects him to go the long way but the child decides to take a short cut. The forest is straight out of a Dadaesque dream. It is populated with large, vaguely projectile looking tree trunks. They have protuberances on them that look monstrous. Along the way the lad meets a creepy quartet of children also drawn in black and white who seem vaguely connected to folktales of their own. There is a menacing quality about them. The first child he meets claims to be sick but the possibility of a ruse to entrap this naive youth into something dangerous. Even the last two children met seem to have stepped out of a contemporary Hansel and Gretel story. These two children have been abandoned by their parents and like the anonymous boy at the beginning are told complacently that they will return soon.

The further along the boy travels the more foreboding this nearly deserted forest appears. While he is drawn in color virtually nothing he encounters save a coat that mysteriously appears in the forest is in color. There is an underbelly of anxiety and a sense of hidden agendas in this bizarre tale. While the format is a picture book, the psychological underpinnings that hover along the edges of the story make this a good example of picture books not for little ones.

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