Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Tale Dark and Grimm - Adam Gidwitz

Summary: In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after. (summary and picture from

Note: this book was previously reviewed on our site and can be found by clicking here.

My Review: Reading this book was like watching the second act of the play Into the Woods.

You know, the act where it stops being fun and whimsical and starts being dark and deep and full of consequences and meaning.  Yeah I love that act.

Because fairy tales, you know, they're pretty messed up.  But you know what?  So is life.  Personally, for me, stories and fairy tales are a way to prepare one for life--you need to understand and know about the darkness if you are to face it.

That also being said, this book is not for the queasy.

What Gidwitz has so wonderfully done is take the original Grimms tales and portray them as they are, no watering down, no simplifying themes to make it light and airy, no pandering down to his audience.  He gets right into the nitty gritty of these tales, which of course includes plenty of violence and blood.

Because I'm an absolute nerd, I knew most of the obscure Grimm's stories Gidwitz referenced in this book.  He uses Hansel and Gretel to weave all the stories together, they become the characters that take part in other less well known fairy tales, from Brother and Sister, to Faithful Johannes to the Robber Bridegroom (here titled as A Smile as Red as Blood, and boy, it's spooky, even I had my mouth hanging open and I knew the story!)

The clever twist that Gidwitz does is give you a 'Get Out Of This Terrifying Situation Free' card.  Just before something gory or frightening is about to happen in the story, he will interject (in bold print) that what is to follow will be frightening.  (Example: "[Hansel and Gretel] show up.  And then they get their heads cut off.")

And here's the thing: kids like to be scared, and it's good when they can feel that emotion in a place where they're safe.  At a conference I attended, Gidwitz said that kids know what they need, and if something gets too much for them in a book, they have the power to close it (not so with scary things in a movie or TV show, where they have no control and no notion that something scary is coming before it's too late).

I loved this book.  I loved the characters and the lesser known fairy tales brought to light.  I liked how Gidwitz said it as it was--how raw and real and fresh it felt to hear these stories without being cleaned up and edited for content. I loved the deeper themes woven through, one in particular of under-standing (explained time and again that it's not just understanding another, but the literal sense of the word, literally standing under another, bearing up their burdens, bearing them as if they were your own).  This was a key point in both Hansel and Gretel's growth, as well as our own as a reader.  Because by participating in stories, we gain empathy to others and their situations, and it helps us when we end up facing those situations in real life. And stories help us be ready, because we will have to be ready.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: hoo boy, you ready?  Decapitations, child endangerment, souls suffering in hell, chopped up bodies, souls being wrenched from throats, possessions, the devil, and blood, lots and lots of blood.  For younger children I would definitely suggest reading the book yourself first before determining if they can handle it, because tinier kids will be scared.

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