A Tale Dark and Grimm
So begins the delightfully intrusive narrator of A TALE DARK AND GRIMM. I actually wish the narrator intruded even more as I not only greatly enjoyed those bits, but also the contrast between the story narration. Since we’re discussing the arch and instrusive narrator of THE KNEEBONE BOY right now, perhaps a comparison is in order. Does this one work better for you?
Featuring the story of Hansel and Gretel, Gidwitz allows his characters to appear in several fairy tales by slightly tweaking them. Ultimately, this distorted amalgamation of fairy tales morphs into a completely new concoction. It reminds me slightly of the structure of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK which begins as a book of related short stories and morphs into a novel two thirds of the way in; something similar happens here.
Also, the premise of fractured fairy tales strung together also recalls some good picture books, namely THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, but also THERE’S A WOLF AT THE DOOR and THERE’S A PRINCESS IN THE PALACE. And then there’s Paul Fleischman’s play, ZAP, with seven different play genres being constantly switched via remote control by an unseen spectator. I mention these not to downplay the originality and creativity of this premise, but rather to say if you like A TALE DARK AND GRIMM then give those a look, too.
Is it scary? I dunno. The narrator kept promising scary, but I’m not sure he delivered. But maybe scary, like funny, is very subjective. And maybe once you read about Iorek Byrnison ripping out Iofur Raknison’s heart and eating it . . . well, nothing compares, does it? Maybe it’s scary for younger readers. I don’t think it’s a book specifically for 2nd or 3rd graders, but perhaps it’s more finely tuned to that age group than the other middle grade contenders we’ve been discussing here, namely THE DREAMER, COUNTDOWN, KEEPER, and ONE CRAZY SUMMER.
I’m not a big fairy tale expert, but I have read Hansel and Gretel and the Seven Ravens (although I’d be hard pressed to, um, like, take an AR quiz on the latter one). Having a knowledge of the fairy tales greatly enhances the experience of reading the novel. No doubt about it. The question is this: Does the book exclude those readers without that knowledge? No doubt about that, either. Thus, this book is actually very germane to our sequel debate. It’s a standalone, but it uses literary allusions in such a way that readers know they are not on equal footing with other readers and are left wondering if they are missing something. Does that bother me? Nope. What bothers me is if you want to claim it’s an issue in, say, A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, but not a problem here. We can’t have that sort of hypocrisy.
So I’m intrigued by this one. It’s not a top three book for me, but I do like it, perhaps enough to be talked into nominating it, and in the right circumstance, perhaps even voting for it. What do you think?
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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