Tag: fairy tales

Review: The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell (InfoSoup)

When a group of dwarfs travels through their tunnels in the mountain to another land, they discover that a sleeping curse is spreading across the world and will soon threaten the kingdom they live in. It all originated with one castle, an angry fairy and a young princess. The dwarfs return through the mountain and let their queen know of the danger. Though it is about to be her wedding day, she goes with them. They discover a land falling fast asleep and that the sleepers will follow them slowly. The castle has a hedge of thorns around it that seems impenetrable. Inside the castle is an old woman who is the only one left awake. She knows that no one can pass the thorns and considers killing the beautiful girl asleep on the bed to lift the curse, but she doesn’t. It is the queen alone who can figure out how to pass the thorns and who will recognize the evil for what it actually is.

Gaiman takes the Grimm story of Sleeping Beauty and makes it lush and incredibly beautiful. His prose is gorgeous, lingering on small things and building a world that is filled with a deadly magic. The queen herself is a great character, much more interested in being a heroine than a queen and having adventures rather than a gorgeous wedding dress. Gaiman does not cringe away from a woman saving another woman, and then he does an amazing twist to the story. One that readers will be shocked by and one that allows it all to click into place, hauntingly.

Riddell’s illustrations are done in pen and ink, made shimmering by touches of gold throughout. Yet it is truly his art which shines here, the details of people asleep as spider’s weave webs across their faces, the dark beauty of the queen and the blonde beauty of the sleeping girl. There is also a beauty to the old woman that is unique and special and to the dwarfs too with their roughened features. The setting too is brought clearly to life as they traverse it.

A glorious new feminist version of Sleeping Beauty that twists and turns before a very satisfying ending. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar

Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar

Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Tory Cummings

Released October 27, 2015

A new take on Little Red Riding Hood, this picture book fills the storybook forest with snow and takes readers on a twirling ride through several fairy tales. Little Red Gliding Hood loves to ice skate down the winding river to her grandmother’s house. She does it so often that her skates are wearing out. Then she discovers that the prize for the upcoming pairs skating competition is a new pair of skates. Now she just has to find the perfect partner. But many of the good skaters have already been taken. She asks her grandmother for ideas and her grandmother suggests her new neighbors who live in a brick house. When Little Red approaches the house, the Wolf shows up and chases her on the ice where they discover that they are both great skaters!

Lazar twists and turns the traditional Little Red Riding Hood tale into a wintry wonder. She pays clear homage to the original, also making many nods to other fairy tales along the way like the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, The Three Bears, and Humpty Dumpty. The entire book has a freshness to it, that makes for a lively read that is perfect both for children new to the story and for those familiar with the original.

The art by Cummings is filled with brisk winter colors of blues and whites. It is made cozy when Little Red visits her grandmother where they sit by the fire and the colors turn to oranges and reds. The art is playful and funny with lots of small touches, particularly when there are characters from lots of fairy tales in one place.

A terrific new take on a traditional tale, this picture book is a great pick for winter story times. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House.

Review: Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

Hamster Princess Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

The author of the Dragonbreath series brings her signature humor and art to a new heroine. Harriet is a hamster princess though she hates the need to be ethereal and drooping. She’d much rather be going cliff diving and riding her quail. But the princess was cursed at birth by an evil fairy, sound familiar? When she turns 12, she will prick her finger on a hamster wheel and fall deeply asleep. But Harriet sees the curse in a more positive way. It means that she is invincible until she is 12 years old. So she heads off to have adventures, slay monsters, and have a great time. But then comes her twelfth birthday, and the Ratbone the evil fairy arrives in person to see it through. With an unbreakable curse on her head, how is a hamster princess to prevail? You will just have to read it to find out!

Vernon takes Sleeping Beauty and turns it around in this novel that is a mix of text and graphics. Princess Harriet is wonderful. She breaks all of the rules, insisting that since she is a princess and doing something therefore princesses must do it. She creates a reputation for herself throughout the region among the more snobbish kingdoms. At the same time though she has had a blast, keeping things from her mother even as she slays ogres and saves giants from meddling Jacks. Throughout the book, Vernon mentions different fairy tales, and even works the glass mountain directly into the story. Fans of fairy tales will find a lot to love here.

The illustrations are funny and wonderfully active. This is not a princess graphic novel that spends any time at all on daintiness. It is much more about great laughs, action scenes and interpreting what her quail meant by his latest “Querk!” The graphic novel elements play perfectly into the story, often being used to move the tale forward on their own. These are not graphic elements to be read on the side since they are so vital to the story itself.

A completely and wonderfully twisted fairytale, this graphic novel is sure to find fans thanks to its strong heroine and laugh-out-loud humor. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

Review: The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (InfoSoup)

Princess Pinecone is the smallest warrior in a kingdom of warriors. For her birthday, she wanted something other than the cozy sweaters that she usually got. After all, warriors want something that make them feel like champions, not cozy sweaters. So Princess Pinecone asked for a real warrior horse, a grand steed. Unfortunately, what she got was a round little pony who ate what it shouldn’t and then farted too much. The day of a great warrior battle was approaching and Princess Pinecone just asked her pony to do its best. Everyone was fighting with one another and Princess Pinecone stayed at the edge waiting for her opportunity to join in. When Otto, a huge warrior, charged right at her, he was stopped by the cuteness of her pony. One by one all of the fierce warriors stopped to look at her pony, to pet it and hug it. Otto admitted that warriors rarely get to show their cuddly side. And that’s how Princess Pinecone found a use for all of her cozy sweaters and appreciation for her cutest of ponies.

The author of the online comic Hark! A Vagrant has released her first picture book and it’s stellar. First, let’s just applaud a picture book that has a tough heroine at its center, one who uses spitballs, wants to battle, and is looking for a real steed to ride. Second, the book also has other strong female characters, women warriors on the page who are already living the life that the princess seeks. Third, they are also different races. It’s lovely and done without fanfare. Then you also have the fact that the princess is feminine and cute herself. She does not have to reject that part of her to be a warrior. And finally of course you have the cute pony that manages to win a battle in its own way. This book is all about being yourself, whoever you are and the magic that happens when you do just that.

Beaton’s illustrations add so much to the appeal of this book. I love that the pony is a zany cute with eyes that sometimes don’t look in the same direction and a penchant for farting. Round and sturdy, it is impossibly cute. The warriors are also wonderful in their own ways, wearing different types of armor with missing teeth and green hair, they are individuals to the core. And yes, there’s even ice cream at the battle, adding the sense of merriment throughout.

Funny and intelligent, this picture book will have any warrior princess clamoring for more. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen


Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

Sarah’s family moves all of the time, away from the cold that her mother despises.  But when her mother walks out one day, Sarah’s father falls apart.  He barely eats and never grocery shops.  It all falls to Sarah to keep them both alive.  Her father seems to be becoming less human by the day, descending into an animal with scruffy hair and yellowed teeth.  Unable to care for Sarah, he takes her to her grandparents’ home, grandparents she had been told were dead.  Left in a moldering castle in a deep woods, Sarah begins to figure out the deep curse that keeps her entire family prisoner.  Her grandmother treats her coldly, putting her to work in the gardens.  Her grandfather is trapped in a cage, fully transformed into a beast yet still able to speak to Sarah at times.  Sarah doesn’t believe in the magic at work at first but soon is forced to admit that something is happening as she witnesses it for herself.  Yet there are twists to the curse that bind her to witches, boys in the wood, and the beasts of her family, including the beast inside herself.

Hellisen beautifully converts the story of Beauty and the Beast into something quite different and extraordinary.  Her writing is as lush as the forest itself and she weaves amazing descriptions onto the pages that bring the entire book to life.  She uses this technique for both characters and the setting.  Here is her description of the castle when Sarah first sees it on page 48:

It was a single squat turret, like a jabbing finger or a lone tooth, made of mottled stone, dribbled and spattered with lichen in yellows and reds.  Furry clumps of moss clung velvety and green at the base.  Ivy grew wild, so thick in some places it distorted the shape of the tower, and sprays of leaves crowned with little blue-black berries rose over the low walls around the outskirts.  Tumbled boulders marked the faint outlines of rooms that had long since fallen.

Talk about showing and not telling!  She is a master at that, creating mood with details that linger in your mind.  This castle is no fairy tale one, or is it?

Hellisen does not set her protagonist on a simple quest either.  Sarah slowly reveals the twists and turns of the curse, binding herself closer and closer to disaster with each revelation.  Disaster waits on the other side of each breath and at times it seems to have already won.  Sarah though is up to the challenge, willing to sacrifice herself to try to prevent the curse from continuing onward in her family. 

This is a gorgeously written tale of love, betrayal, revenge and family.  Fans of retellings of classic fairy tales will find so much to adore in this fantasy novel.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

Review: Little Red Riding Hood by Sybille Schenker

little red riding hood

Little Red Riding Hood by The Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Sybille Schenker, translated by Anthea Bell

This follow-up to the illustrator’s gorgeous rendition of Hansel and Gretel continues to show her amazing skills with cut paper illustrations.  The cover the book is pure black with cut outs that reveal a red and white pattern behind.  It’s rather like opening a door into another world.  The story is the traditional one, told in a simple way that highlights the more dramatic moments.  Be prepared for the traditional ending with the wolf killed, his body cut open and then refilled with stones so that he dies.  This is not a modernized and gentle version at all.  Yet that works particularly well with these incredible illustrations and the wonder they evoke. 

Schenker plays with her cut paper throughout.  There are times when the page is entirely cut through, into patterns.  Other times the illustrations are cut paper but the page is whole.  You will find yourself running your hands over the page to see if the cuts are actual or simply visual.  She shows such skill throughout creating moments that change as you turn the page and they become even more dazzling as you look back through the cuts.  My favorite page turn is when the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood, it’s an astonishing change that works oh so well.

Wundergarden has some illustrations online from Schenker.  Here are ones from this book:

If you are looking for a version of Little Red Riding Hood to treasure, this is it.  It may not last for long on public library shelves, but it is a book that will be loved by those who discover it.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Dragon & the Knight by Robert Sabuda

dragon and the knight

The Dragon and the Knight by Robert Sabuda

This new pop up book by Sabuda, a master of the form, is very child friendly.  While I admired his remakes of the classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, those books spoke more to adults than to children.  This new book is perfect to share aloud with a child who will enjoy a romp through different fairy tales.  A knight starts chasing a dragon through different stories including Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood.  Each page opens to a different scene that pops open showing the characters of the story created out of the pages of their book.  Entirely clever, quick reading and worthy of revisiting again and again.

Sabuda’s art in creating pop up designs will astound young readers.  Two pages in particularly are stunning.  There is the entire gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel that pops into being in 3D complete with awnings, windows, door and chimney.  Another amazing page is Little Red Riding Hood where the trees pop into a woods that has different dimensions and lots of height.  Readers will also enjoy the little reveal at the end as the knight takes off HER helmet.

As always, pop up books aren’t really for very small children, but this is one of those that could be shared carefully with preschoolers who will love the detail and the incredible joy of the format.  Appropriate for ages 4-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.