"Snow White" is one of our most popular fairytales, which means that there are hundreds of different versions out there, each one with its own pros and cons. But for my money, I think the collaboration between Josephine Poole and Angela Barrett is one of the best, with lovely prose combined with delicate illustrations.
Poole's retelling is one of the best I've read, for she not only faithfully adapts the story found in the Brothers Grimm, but adds little details of her own here and there. Most versions of the story omit the fact that the Evil Queen made two attempts on Snow White's life before the apple: first by suffocating her with corset strings, then by placing a poisoned comb in her hair. Poole keeps this threefold aspect of the Queen's assassination attempt, and also keeps such details as the poisoned apple being divided into two halves (one poisoned red half, the other an ordinary white half), the fact that Snow White is not awoken by a kiss, but by her glass coffin being jolted on its way down the mountainside, and even the inclusion of an owl, a raven and dove coming to mourn Snow White after her apparent death. All these details are part of the earliest Snow White stories as recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Most of them are exorcised in recent retellings, but reinstated here, adding to the sense of meaning and symbolism prevalent in all our oldest fairytales.
There's only one significant change. The Brothers Grimm version of the story has the Evil Queen punished at Snow White's wedding by being forced to wear red-hot iron slippers, caught in a terrible agonising dance until she falls down dead. Here the Queen hears of Snow White's wedding to the prince and prepares a rose with poisoned thorns: on seeing Snow White so beautiful and happy, she squeezes the deadly rose and is killed by her own poison when the thorns pierce her skin. It's poetic justice without being as gruesome as the original ending.
Poole also adds little minutiae of her own, such as the fact that Snow White's mother pricked her finger whilst leaning out her window to hear the King's hunting horn, and that the seven dwarfs become councillors to Snow White and her husband. It takes the bare bones of the Brothers Grimm tale and gives it life.
Then there's Angela Barrett's illustrations. She long been one of my favourite artists, and is at the top of her game here. Setting the story in a mingling of Medieval and Georgian periods, the illustrations are replete with beautiful details and potent symbolism. Wild animals prowl the forests, patterns are carved into the wooden furniture, statues and broken masonry litter the forest floor.
Some of the compositions are ingenuous: the illustration that depicts Snow White's mother pricking her finger has her leaning out of her window: one half of the page shows the interior of the castle, divided down the centre by a cross-section of the wall, with the other half depicting the snowy view of the mountainside, complete with the Queen's drops of blood just visible in the snow. It's gorgeous. There is a two-page spread of Snow White's flight into the forest, her panic reflected in the dash of wolves and wildcats all around her, and later the tragedy of her death is depicted by a wide view of the dark forest, her glass coffin no bigger than a fingernail in its midst. If I have one quibble, it's that Snow White's lips aren't as red as they should be, but that's so minor that I'm almost embarrassed to have mentioned it.
This is one of my favourite versions of the Snow White fairytales; perhaps even the quintessential one. It hits all the right notes of the fairytale and adds a few fresh details, and Barrett's illustrations are glorious as always (see also, her version of Beauty and the Beast). Perhaps a bit long for very young readers, children age seven and up will enjoy this retelling and its accompanying art work.