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Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Tale Dark and Grimm, written by Adam Gidwitz. Dutton, Penguin. 2010. $21.00 ages 10 and up

"The king and the queen, in an
effort to honor his memory took
Faithful Johannes, grotesque even
in stone, and placed him beside
their bed so that every morning when
they woke up, and every evening
when they lay down, they would
be reminded of his faithfulness,
and the great debt they owed him."

When the Grimm Brothers wrote their tales, they wanted them to be dark, and grisly, and they wanted them to instill a tacit message. Adam Gidwitz has taken some of the lesser known stories and created one tale with Hansel and Gretel as the core connection for the telling. He repeatedly offers counsel that what the reader is about to read is bloody, alarming and even spine-chilling:

"Yeah, yeah, nearly getting eaten by a cannibalistic baker woman is bad. But not nearly as bad as what's to come."

So much for the watered-down, happily ever after fairy tales that so many children know and love, without ever knowing the real fairy tales that have been told for centuries. I loved this book; but it is not for the faint of heart or for anyone who objects to violence and bloodthirsty revenge. If you like witty purposeful writing and dark humor, you are sure to be the right audience for another of those books that will find a place on my 'keepers' shelf.

In connecting these unfamiliar tales while using the recognizable Hansel and Gretel as his protagonists, the author takes us on a circuitous, horrifying trek. He adds frequent narration, which is set apart from the story's text by bolding it. This element makes the story appear conversational, and immediate. What fun these tales would be to share in the intermediate/middle years classroom! They would also make for great dramatic performances.

Using the original tales as a point of departure, Gidwitz makes them his own by adding and changing elements along the way. Nothing is serious here, but it is definitely brutal and barbaric. He offers up what's coming in each story's we know what we must prepare ourselves to read them.

Hansel and Gretel cannot count on the adults in their lives, and they muster up their courage and wisdom to deal with the problems faced. But, they are bitter and angry over much that transpires. The narrator adds
humorous, frank and shrewd commentary. In Grimm's fairy tales bad things happened to good people and from those experiences came much learning.

The narrator sums up:

 "What did all of this mean - these strange, scary, dark, grim tales? I told you already. I don't know. Besides, even if I did, I wouldn't tell you. You see, to find the brightest wisdom one must pass through the darkest zones. And through the darkest zones there can be no guide. No guide, that is, but courage."

And, there is a happy ending!

"There is a wisdom in children, a kind of knowing, a kind of believing, that we, as adults, do not have. There is a time when a kingdom needs its children."

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