Happy birthday, Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1786-1859), the younger of the Grimm brothers, who traveled throughout their native Germany, collecting oral folklore and compiling it into several volumes entitled Children’s and Household Tales, or more colloquially as Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
The original tales were rather bloody and gruesome (some might say, grim), but when the brothers discovered that children were reading them, they softened them up a bit (the term “a bit” being relative, for in their version of Cinderella, called “Ashputtel,” the jealous stepsisters cut off their toes in an attempt to force their feet to fit the special shoe).
In recent years, there have been a spate of new children’s and young adult books (and a few television shows as well) that have used the Grimm canon and legacy as a springboard for various flights of fancy.
A Tale Dark & Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz, is an amazingly creative take on the tales that twists and turns, terrifies and tickles the fancy. With a Lemony Snicket-like narrator and the plucky Hansel and Gretel as protagonists, the story winds its way through a succession of other, more obscure tales — “The Three Golden Hairs,” “Faithful Johannes,” and “Brother and Sister” to name a few. In this re-imagining, Hansel and Gretel’s parents are not a poor woodcutter and his wife, but the King and Queen of Grimm. As always, parents do unspeakable things to their children. The twist? The brother and sister aren’t the abandoned; it is they who leave-- to find better parents. The magic is that as Hansel and Gretel become heroes by going out on this quest and by saving others, they also come to understand the source of their parents’ weakness’ and failings. High level? Yes -- this isn’t R.L. Stine’s cotton candy horror. But at the same time, “A Tale Dark & Grimm” is truly, laugh-out-loud funny, in the way of The Series of Unfortunate Events. How can you miss with an opening line like “Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.”
Michael Buckley brought out the first of The Sisters Grimm series in 2005, The Fairytale Detectives, and has been riding the fantasy wave ever since, with six additional novels spinning the tales of Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, sisters and the remaining descendants of the original Grimm Brothers. The premise here is that the fairytales were actually criminal case files, and all the characters are actually the residents (they prefer to be called “Everafters”) of a town in upstate New York called Ferryport Landing. Each book in the series presents a mystery or two for the girls to solve and they are intrepid sleuths who are bound and determined to get to the bottom of the most puzzling enigma: what happened to their parents? (Yes, another set of orphans; well, semi-orphans, they discover they have a long-lost grandma in the first book.)
The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman takes the premise that the magical objects in fairytales are real-- and that they actually have magical properties. Eight grader Elizabeth gets a job as a page at the New York Circulating Material Repository, which is like a library for objects, all types of objects: the obscure and the most-common, those of historic importance and those with contemporary ties. And then there are those magical objects, the secret ones, tucked away in the basement. That’s where she encounters the Grimm Collection, a room of magical items straight from the Grimm Brother's fairy tales. And that’s where the mystery starts: the magic mirrors, golden slippers, seven-league boots and other items are starting to disappear. Someone is replacing them with ordinary, nonmagical substitutes. And before she knows it, she and her fellow pages - perfect Anjali, hunky Marc, and snarky Aaron - are suddenly pulled into a semi-kooky, semi-dangerous adventure.
I wish you much Grimm reading...enjoy! And remember, you can always go back to the originals... there's a reason they are inspiring so many re-imaginings...they are truly timeless tales.
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