Many years ago, there was a woodcutter. He lived deep in the forest with his wife. She was a kind and gentle woman. They had two children: Hansel and Gretel.
The family did not have much money, but their home was always cozy and warm, and the children always had soup and bread to eat. They never went hungry.
One year, there was a terribly cold winter, and Hansel and Gretel's mother became ill and died.
In time the woodcutter married another woman, but she was not kind and gentle. She was cruel and selfish. She wanted to be rich, and she wanted to eat fancy foods like roast beef, mashed potatoes, peas, corn, lemon cakes, and exotic fruits from sunny lands.
She was angry that they could only afford soup and bread for every meal.
"Soup and bread! Soup and bread! Every day! Soup and bread! I am so tired of soup and bread!" she complained.
The stepmother was especially cruel to Hansel and Gretel because she believed they were the reason the family was so poor.
"You children eat too much! It's your fault that we only have soup and bread!"
She wanted the children gone.
One day, while the woodcutter was out cutting wood, the stepmother called Hansel and Gretel into the kitchen of their cottage.
"There is not enough food to make soup for dinner”, said the stepmother. "We will all go hungry tonight. Go into the forest and pick some mushrooms to make a mushroom soup. I know where the best mushrooms grow…"
Then she gave them the most confusing directions she could think of. She knew they would never be able to find their way home.
"Walk north for two hours, turn left at the tall trees, walk east for twenty minutes, continue straight ahead, cross the stream, turn right onto the main road, go through the hole in the fence, walk under the bridge (watch out for the troll), and then three miles inside the forest, you will find some mushrooms under a tree. Go now so you can be back in time for dinner."
Hansel and Gretel were scared. They knew the forest was deep and dark, and that it was easy to get lost.
"Don't worry! I have a plan!” whispered Hansel to Gretel. He went to the back of the house and filled his pockets with white pebbles from the garden.
Then the two children started walking, following their stepmother’s directions. Every few steps, Hansel dropped a little white pebble on the ground.
They walked for hours, but they did not find any mushrooms.
"It’s almost night time. I’m scared," said Gretel, crying.
"Don't worry. I can find the way home!" said Hansel.
Hansel waited until the moon was bright. The moonlight shone through the tall trees and made his tiny white pebbles glow. They followed the trail of pebbles all the way back home.
Their stepmother was furious. She didn't expect the children to find their way home.
"Little fools! Where are the mushrooms?" the stepmother shouted. "Now we have nothing to eat! There will be no dinner for you tonight! Go straight to bed!”
The children went to bed hungry.
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