Review Blog

Dec 15 2011

The Pied Piper of Hamelin retold by Michael Morpurgo

cover image

Ill. by Emma Chichester Clark. Walker Books, 2011.
(Ages 7+) Recommended. Picture book. Folk tale. The cautionary tale of the Pied Piper taking the children from the town following the non payment of a debt owed him when he cleared the town of its rats is retold in this handsomely produced hard cover book published by Walker Books. The story is revisited, enlarged and modernised, given a contemporary tweek to make the moral unambiguous to the modern reader.
Beset with mounds of rubbish, children who need to beg in the streets for their supper, and families that go without, while orphaned children live in shanties on the outskirts of the town, a plague of rats causes problems, not only for the orphaned children who have to fight for the scraps from the rats but also the wealthy as they find the rats inside their houses, eating the food in the larders.
When a strangely dressed Piper comes to town, offering to rid the town of its rats, he demands only a gold coin for the work, but in doing so, the mayor refuses to pay him, and so the Piper promises that worse will happen. And it does - he plays his flute so that all the children in the town follow him to the mountains, where they disappear behind a crevice. The lame beggar following some way behind is told by the Piper to return to the town, and offer the people their children back in return for cleaning the town and making everyone equal, with enough to eat, a house to live in and a warm fire in winter. It takes the town a whole year to clean their town and provide food and shelter for all, and so the Piper leads the children back, to the relief of all.
A tale with a moral that will be discussed and talked over in many classes, not only as an old folk tale, but a story of the disparity between rich and poor, first and third worlds, literate and illiterate, educated and non educated, town and city: encouraging children to think about how this gap can be bridged.
Morpurgo's rewriting brings it up to the minute and Clark's illustrations are wonderfully evocative, showing clearly the line between the haves and have nots.
Fran Knight

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