Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest

h1 November 23rd, 2021 by jules

“The witch sighed. She had always found young children exhausting. She looked up.
‘All right then. What do you wish for?'”


I love to see the books of author-illustrator Ole Könnecke, so I was happy to see that Gecko Press has released here in the States his illustrated chapter book, Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest (September 2021). This modern fairy tale features a quick-thinking protagonist named Dulcinea. She knows not to ever enter the enchanted woods next to her home, but … well, sometimes you have to face your fears in order to save your father.

Dulcinea and her father live happily in a small home near these woods. Her father is strict about only one thing: “You must never go in there!” he says, pointing to the forest next to their home. A witch lives there, he explains. But on Dulcinea’s birthday, he hesitantly ventures into the forest to get blueberries for a pancake breakfast, because both had forgotten to buy blueberries at the market. He meets the witch, who turns him into a tree. The New York Times review of this book notes that it is as if it “shares lineage with Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl,” and that’s accurate. But her father being turned into a tree is also reminiscent of William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. To me, however, this is immensely funny, given that the tree version of her father retains his eyes, his floppy mustache, and his hat. (See below.)

The lionhearted Dulcinea figures out what has happened and, determined to save her father, braves the witch’s castle (not to mention a moat filled with monsters), her sidekick duck (always mute) by her side. I won’t give away the whole story, but in the tradition of classic fairy tales, she outwits the witch and saves her father. (The spread below, in which you see them walking away from the woodcutter and the forest, makes me laugh very hard: Look at the father’s face. He is normally wide-eyed, but that’s a look that says, holy wow I was just a TREE.)

Konnecke’s relaxed-line cartoon drawings in these six chapters (plus an epilogue) are dominated by the coral color you see on the cover. There’s a lot of drama — and spunk and humor — in these expressive characters. The witch, for one, is a long-fingered and capricious nightmare — but not so scary that she would scare young readers away. Her ability to cast quick and destructive spells makes Dulcinea’s defeat of her all the more spectacular.

This nail-biting tale for the youngest of readers / listeners is also filled with a heaping dose of magic; note the flying fish on both the cover and in one of the spreads below.

It’s a keeper. Here are some spreads. …


“… and turned Dulcinea’s father into a tree. Then she laughed and walked off,
singing a hideous song.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“Nobody enjoys walking through an enchanted forest. Not even Dulcinea. But she had to find that witch. She set off in the direction her father had pointed,
trying to keep her eyes on the path ahead.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“She was standing in front of the castle wall. But there was no door. She guessed witches didn’t need them. There were vines, though. Dulcinea didn’t think twice. If you can climb a tree, you can climb a vine. Besides, nothing bad
could happen to you on your birthday, could it?”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“Very, very slowly, Dulcinea approached the witch. She musn’t make the slightest noise. The witch must not notice. Very, very carefully, Dulcinea bent down and picked up the book of spells. Then she turned and tiptoed very, very quietly back to the stairs.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


“Meanwhile, a woodcutter had wnadered into the forest. He knew nothing about witches or enchanted fathers. He only knew that he was standing in front of an unusually magnificent tree. Exactly what I’ve been looking for, he thought. So he grasped his axe in his strong woodcutter’s hands, drew it far back, and …”
(Click spread to enlarge)


“But then Dulcinea wanted to go home so she could finally eat her pancakes with blueberries and whipped cream. ‘Besides,’ she said, ‘I have a book of spells, so now I can conjure up blueberries any time I like.'”
(Click spread to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

DULCINEA IN THE FORBIDDEN FOREST. Original publication Dulcinea im Zauberwald by Ole Könnecke © 2021 Carl Hanser Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, München. English-language edition © Gecko Press Ltd 2021. Translation © Shelley Tanaka 2021. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Gecko Press, New Zealand.

One comment to “Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest

  1. I love that the witch is all, “Ugh, kids.” And then she turns Dad into a tree, and it’s like, “Ugh, people.” She’s a charmer, that one. I can imagine a couple of kids who will love this one!

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