Friday, June 17, 2011

A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Book Jacket

Reader: beware.  Warlocks with dark spells, hunters with deadly aim, and bakers with ovens retrofitted for cooking children lurk within these pages.

But if you dare, turn the page and learn the true story of Hansel and Gretel--the story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Come on in.  It may be frightening, it's certainly bloody, and it's definitely not for the faint of heart, but unlike those other fairy tales you know, this one is true.


I love fairy tales, whether Disneyified or more authentically gruesome.  A Tale Dark & Grimm is definitely the latter (which is made obvious by the title).  One of my favorite quotes pertaining to children's literature is by G.K. Chesterton: "Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”  Gidwitz's retelling of Hansel and Gretel doesn't hold back on the unsavory bits (children are beheaded, girls cut off their own fingers, and boys travel to Hell and back), but it is through the darkness and the danger that some really fantastic life truths are explored.

It's not all philosophy, though.  This book is hilarious.  Most of it is the straight telling of the fairy tale, but every once in a while, particularly before the bloody sections, a bolded narrator interjects and warns of upcoming woes, or explains something that might not make sense to modern children.  For instance, when Hansel goes to Hell, he must steal the three golden hairs from the Devil's head in order to escape.  When the Devil falls asleep, Hansel reaches out....and the narrator breaks in to say he took:

"A hair from the Devil's head.

That's what he's going to take, right?


Wrong!  Are you crazy!  The Devil would wake up immediately!  And then it would be all over for Hansel, forever and ever and ever.

I hope that's not what you thought Hansel was going to do.  If you did, good luck if you ever end up in Hell."

In the end, Hansel and Gretel suffer more than any child should, but they learn about growing up, about forgiveness, about the hardness of life and the ability to make a difference for good.  I think all children (and all adults, too!) could use a dose of reality, which A Tale Dark & Grimm readily provides, despite its fiction.  I like happy fuzzy stories as much as the next optimistic person, but sometimes it is nice to be reminded that yes, the world can be awful.  But that's not the end.  What you do in the face of the awful is what matters.

Five out of five cartfuls of golden apples.

Release Date:  October 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: J GID

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of A Tale Dark & Grimm:

School Library Journal

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