A Tale Dark and Grimm
by Adam Gidwitz
What if Hansel and Gretel weren’t simply tossed out into the woods? What if it were far worse? Perhaps their parents did something so unthinkable that they felt they had to leave home (such as chop off their heads – don’t worry, the children get them back). These half-dozen retellings of tales from the Brothers Grimm are grim indeed – and not for the faint of heart. The narrator is the first to warn you and your young ones at various points in the volume: “Are there any small children in the room now? If so, it would be best if we just let them think this really is the end of the story and hurried them off to bed.”
Some tales by the Brothers Grimm will be less familiar, such as “Faithful Johannes,” the story of a servant loyal to generations of kings who proves his fidelity with his life (or very nearly). One you could probably tell by heart--“Hansel and Gretel.” First-time author Gidwitz, a teacher and (judging from this book) masterful storyteller, invented still others. His involve dragons. All of the tales star Hansel and Gretel. Each tale builds on the one before. The boy hero’s gluttonous ways in “Hansel and Gretel” are a foreshadowing of his downfall in “Brother and Sister.” Gretel’s resourcefulness in “A Smile as Red as Blood” comes into play in her plan with Hansel to rid the kingdom of a dragon that terrorizes its people. Key elements of earlier tales make the final story’s solution plausible. There is no happily-ever-after in this vision of Grimm. Instead there is “well, not really,” “almost” and “nearly.” Sometimes that is the only word or phrase on an entire page. Sometimes Gretel acts the part of the hero, sometimes Hansel saves the day. Always, the author proves, as he says twice, “In life, the darkest zones are where one finds the brightest beauty and the most luminous wisdom.” This is a fabulous read-aloud for the entire family.