There’s something wonderful about discovering a new book. It makes you feel like you have this great, golden, wonderful secret and you want to run up hill and down dale spilling the news. At least it’s that way for me. Nellie Forbush can sing all she wants about her wonderful guy but I need to start a parade: I’ve found a wonderful book. If you have children, go get this one because you’ll want it. If you don’t have children, get it anyway and rent some kids to read it to because this book (besides being wonderful, scary, hilarious and thrilling) begs to be read out loud. Seriously. This is a fabulous read-aloud book.
The Book is A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz and yes, it’s a salute to the Brothers Grimm. As the narrator points out, fairytales these days have no resemblance to their dark and lovely ancestors once published by the Brothers Grimm. Somebody else retold the story (and changed a few things) then someone else repeated the procedure, ad nauseum, ad infinitum until Disney got ahold of it and really turned the tale into literary pablum. A shot of boredom, straight to the solar plexus and our current youngest readers nod off wondering why anyone bothered about Snow White and Rose Red in the first place. The narrator here promises he’s excavated the real story of Hansel and Gretel and he’s willing to share it with you but as the story progresses, he keeps saying to get the kids out of the room.
My sis (who knows about such things) turned me on to this tale and I’ll bet the next mortgage payment that when she reads this warning aloud to her students they all shout her down and demand she keep on with the story. I would. First off, the the story is funny, laugh-out-loud funny in places. In what other tale would Hansel sniff himself baking in the oven (Yup, in this version the kid spends time in the RadarRange) and think, “Oh no! I’m cooking! And I smell delicious!”
You shouldn’t worry about Hansel. He’s not really baking. Not yet.
The story is a combination of wide-eyed fairy tale mixed with enough anachronistic humor to keep the adults grinning (my favorite supporting characters are three ravens who comment on the scene and finish each others’ sentences like Tweedledum and Tweedledee) and underneath it all a wonderful story about the mistakes everybody makes and how everyone needs love, forgiveness and understanding, parents included. (Understanding here is so much more than comprehension and empathy. This version says understanding means, I will literally stand under you and bear your cares and burdens like they were my own. That’s more than empathy, that’s love.) It’s an overwhelming book and the only warning I would give prospective parents is read the thing yourself first so you will know what’s coming and where you’ll want to take a breath when you read this thing out loud. Because you will want to read it out loud. The prose begs to be read out loud. And listeners will love it when you do.
The best news is that A Tale Dark and Grimm is only the first of a series and while I can’t recommend those yet (I haven’t read them yet and I haven’t trusted an author on sequels since Lemony Snicket) I will be reading them to see if the magic holds up. In the meantime, does anyone have a batch of kids that need reading aloud to? There’s a book I really want to share.