When it comes to the story of the Gingerbread Man, there are many variations, but my personal favorite is the one adapted by Jim Aylesworth and illustrated by Barbara McClintock. Published in 1998, Aylesworth’s The Gingerbread Man is fun to read out loud—he’s got the rhythm down just right. And the illustrations by McClintock are gorgeous—they’re filled with old-fashioned charm and feature expressive, lively characters, especially the delectable-looking Gingerbread Man. So imagine my surprise when I read this book to my preschooler and she seemed a little disturbed by the ending. In his version, Aylesworth stays true to the original tale and has the Gingerbread Man devoured by the wily fox. True, the Gingerbread Man is the protagonist of the tale and it is disconcerting to read about your protagonist being eaten in the end…but he is a cookie, after all. Some may even say he had it coming to him. But what some people (ahem, adults) may view as arrogance, others may see as just playfulness. Poor Gingerbread Man!
So I pulled out another version of the story to read to my daughter—Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett. Here, Brett presents a new twist on the familiar tale. Matti (I love the fact that it’s a boy) and his mother are baking a gingerbread boy. But Matti is impatient and peeks inside the oven before the cookie is done. Out jumps a gingerbread baby who sings: “I am the Gingerbread Baby,/Fresh from the pan./If you want me,/Catch me if you can.” As you might expect, he runs away and is chased by various people and animals, including a hungry fox. All except Matti, who calmly stays home and begins baking a gingerbread house. In the end, we find out that Matti is the cleverest one of all. He catches the runaway cookie by enticing him into the candy-encrusted house. The last page features a gingerbread- house flap that children can lift. Inside, they’ll see the Gingerbread Baby winking at them and singing, “I’m the little Gingerbread Baby,/Lucky as can be,/To be living in the house,/That Matti made for me!” I like this version too. The twist is clever and if you like Brett’s style of illustration, you’ll love the visuals here as well. As for my daughter, she was entranced by the pictures and happier about the cookie’s outcome.
P.S. My daughter and I spent the next day making (and eating!) gingerbread cookies and guess what? She asked to hear The Gingerbread Man by Aylesworth and McClintock, and this time, she had no problems with the ending. What a difference a day (and a cookie or two in the tummy) can make!
What is your favorite version of the Gingerbread Man story?