A Tale Dark and Grimm
by Adam Gidwitz
“You see, Hansel and Gretel don’t just show up at the end of this story.
They show up.
And then they get their heads cut off.
Just thought you’d like to know.”
It is true. Hansel and Gretel get their heads chopped off. And then their story begins. Hansel and Gretel were the son and daughter of a king and queen. In order to save the life of a loyal servant, they had to chop their children's heads off, so the children thought that after that, they should probably go and find new parents.
They travel through different, more obscure fairy tales with themselves as the main characters, starting with "Faithful Johanness," "The Seven Swallows," "Hansel and Gretel," "Brother and Sister," etc trying to find a better family to take care of them, and in the process, they grow up. And they deal with some pretty deep stuff. Each of them makes mistakes with deadly consequences, but they learn from them. Each of them have to make terrible sacrifices. But they gain strength, intelligence, and willpower so they can safe the kingdom and come to grips with their horrible parental trust issues.
This was a fantastic book! The style was delicious! Each section begins as a fairy tale; "Once Upon a Time, there was a ______" It continues in that style with frequent interruptions from a very chatty narrator, snarkily judging the character's decisions, explaining to the reader the feelings the characters must be going through, and most of all, vehemently warning of the impending gore and frightening subject matter, employing the readers to take the children out of the room, etc. It is absolute genius. It warns them, but then dares them to read on, and when bad things occur, the reader is prepared and brave, and is able to go on. They are not shocked by the horrible things happening and have to put the book down. This is juvenile fiction after all.
In the back, the writer tells the story of how someone came into his second grade classroom and read "The Seven Ravens," in which a girl cuts off her finger. After being assured that he was not fired, he realized the kids got a lot out of it, and they begged him to tell more stories, asking questions, shouting responses, and getting involved in the story telling.
With all the discussion recently about if kids can handle dark fairy tales, I think the answer is a resounding YES. This book shows that kids can have the strength to go through dark times and come out the other side. Kids need dark stories to know that people can survive and be better for it. If they don't put themselves in the right story when they encounter a dark time, they will crumble. If they think of themselves as a hero with a possibility of winning, they will fight.
This is my favorite quote in the book:
“There is a certain kind of pain that can change you. Even the strongest sword, when placed in a raging fire, will soften and bend and change its form. So it was with Hansel. The fire of guilt and shame was just that hot.
Trust me on this one. I know this from personal experience. I hope that you never will, but, since you're a person, and therefore prone to making horrible, soul-splitting mistakes, you probably will one day know what this kind of guilt and shame feels like. And when that time comes, I hope you have the strength, as Hansel had, to take advantage of the fire and reshape your own sword.”
Oh and check out the trailer. It is awesome!