A review of Jewel Kats’ Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy tale with a Down Syndrome Twist (Loving Healing Press, 2014).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Many fairy tales portray disability as a problem of character, as something that indicates a problem in a character’s personality. Jewel Kats wrote a series of fairy tale re-workings and re-writings in picture book format that imagine disability as a factor of human life rather than as a symbol or indication of a problem. In her “Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy tale with a Down Syndrome Twist”, Kats explores the possibilities within folk and fairy tale narratives for opening up questions about disability.
Kats recreates Hansel as a person who has Down Syndrome. He experiences discrimination at home as his mother tries to protect him, telling him that he is “sick” and in need of protection. His father reminds everyone that he isn’t ill, he is someone who has Down syndrome. When outside of his come, Hansel feels a sense of freedom that he didn’t have in his home.
When Hansel encounters the witch in the narrative and her talking toad, he encounters discrimination because of his Down syndrome. Hansel responds to the witch seeing him exclusively as a walking disability by providing his name, showing that he is a complete person, not a symbol of disability. When the witch assumes he is unintelligent, he responds by outsmarting her.
Kats creates a transformative tale that is about challenging assumptions about Down Syndrome and creating understanding between people who have Down Syndrome and those who don’t.
“Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy tale with a Down Syndrome Twist” is a fairy tale adaptation that combines excellent illustrations with a powerful narrative that reminds readers that fairy tales are transformative. It is written as a children’s book, but has those moments of re-thinking that allow people of any age to question ideas of disability.
To discover more about the work of Jewel Kats, visit her website at http://www.jewelkats.com/