Sunday, September 2, 2012
In this post, I want to comment on a couple "Grimm" offerings my family has come across recently. As always, our posts about mainstream books do not include a rating or recommendation, but are written simply to help families be more informed, since it's not always possible to read every book your child brings home.
My eleven-year-old daughter was asked to read A Tale Dark and Grimm for a public library Tween book club. The front cover and book jacket looked a bit alarming, so she asked if I would read it first. The story, by Adam Gidwitz, centers on Hansel and Gretel. The book is based on actual fairy tales by the brothers Grimm, and is loosely organized into a chronology of their adventures. In most of the tales, the adults can't be trusted, so Hansel and Gretel must rely on their own strength, cunning and sense of right and wrong to overcome evil and eventually return home.
The tales are quite bloody. Gidwitz doesn't shy away from describing gory deaths or dismemberment, although he is an overt narrator, and often pauses in the middle of the action to suggest readers send little children out of the room, or get a babysitter, before things get worse. At one point, Gretel has to cut off one of her own fingers to use as a key, and in another story, Hansel becomes an animal because he has killed so many other animals. In yet another story, Hansel must journey to Hell to rescue someone, and ends up tricking Satan into ferrying the dead across the river for several centuries.
Several of the stories are reminiscent of old-fashioned "cautionary" tales. "Lips Red as Blood" serves as a helpful allegory to introduce the ideas of sexual predators and sexual assault to readers. Plot Spoilers Ahead: In this chapter, Gretel is unequivocally the heroine, when she tells the townspeople the young man they thought was so charming is really stealing the souls (represented as doves) of young girls and putting them in cages. By telling, she releases the doves back to the young girls, and saves them. However, in yet another grim development, the young man is promptly killed.
At the end of the book, we learn Hansel and Gretel's father, the king, has been turning into a dragon and terrorizing his own people. Although the children figure it out, the king doesn't realize what he is doing and has no recollection of events occurring when he is in dragon form. This story could be helpful to read with children who have a parent or loved one who deals with serious mental illness. Even though the king and queen were not perfect parents, the book ends with a powerful message about forgiveness and redemption, and shows children can forgive and live well, even if they are young.
The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman, was the first "Grimm" book my daughter and I read, and my favorite. In it, several teens work for a lending library full of artifacts from the Grimm tales. The teens realize the artifacts still work, and quickly become involved in a race between the librarians who want to keep the artifacts safe, and evil forces who want to use the artifacts for power. The book will make you excited about libraries, and the story is suspenseful, dramatic, and clever without being gory or disturbing. Unfortunately, there is some unnecessary "making out" between characters who don't know each other very well, which makes it not the best choice for the younger tween set.
I also read the first two books in Michael Buckley's The Sisters Grimm series. The Fairy Tale Detectives and The Unusual Suspects are funny, and more appropriate for younger readers. The author's characterization of the two sisters is so realistic--they love each other and would do anything for family, but they squabble and deal with typical sibling rivalry. The biggest concern with these books is that the line between good and evil is confusing and indistinct. Is Prince Charming really charming, or is he a manipulative business man? Why is the Big Bad Wolf the girls' protector? The three little pigs are police deputies, but are they on the right or wrong side? And is the Pied Piper of Hamlin a benevolent school principal, or is he involved in a sinister plot to exploit children for profit? You would have to read more than the first two books to get definitive answers to many of these questions.
Age Appeal: A Tale Dark and Grimm 12 and up due to blood and gore; The Grimm Legacy 14 and up due to romantic elements, otherwise fine for younger readers; The Sisters Grimm 8 and up
Publisher Info: A Tale Dark and Grimm: Puffin, 2011; ISBN: 978-0142419670 ; Paperback, 256 pages, $6.99
Buy A Tale Dark Grimm at Amazon.com for $6.99
Buy The Grimm Legacy at Amazon for $7.99
Buy The Sisters Grimm: Fairy Tale Detectives at Amazon for $6.95