Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
Released September 23, 2014.
Filled with the stark, violent and frightening truths behind the fairy tales you loved as a child, this book of 50 poems is designed for teens ready to see beyond the beauty of a princess dress. The poems bring the fairy tales into the modern day, introducing us to the dirty side of the entire princess and beauty myth. Here are girls who are trapped in the stories society has sold them, girls who cannot eat, girls with no hope, girls who do as they are told, until they don’t. You will find all of the princesses on the pages here, by they are not who you think they are. There are poems told in their voices and others that are based on rhymes. They are all caustic, brave and vary from tragic to hilarious. I dare you to try to put this one down.
Brilliant. I read the first poem in this book and knew that I had found something entirely unique and amazing. Heppermann skewers the princess trope, firmly demanding that girls realize what is happening to them. That they recognize that it is built on them not for them, that they are all beautiful no matter what the ads say, and that if you listen too much your life becomes a mockery or a tragedy. This is satire at its very best, paying tribute to the fairy tales but savagely tearing them apart to form a new garment and march onward.
Get this one for your teen collections, hand it directly to girls who don’t like poetry because this will change their minds forever. This book will speak to every girl, because we have all been sold the same stories. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.
Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat
This companion to The Three Ninja Pigs mixes ninja training, wolves and girls in red capes into one great homage to the traditional tale. Wolf can’t catch any animals to eat. They all defeat him with their ninja skills, so he decides to get training himself. After practicing for hours, he heads into the woods where he sees Riding Hood carrying a treat to her grandmother. He suggests that Riding Hood pick some flowers for her grandmother, and dashes off to the grandmother’s house himself. She isn’t home, so he puts on her clothes. After Riding Hood slowly realizes that this is not her grandmother in a wonderful mix of traditional and martial arts storytelling, it is revealed that Riding Hood has also had ninja training. But when the two are evenly matched, it will take one butt-kicking grandmother to save the day.
Schwartz mixes the traditional tale with ninja skills and martial arts to form a tremendously fun book that happily does not leave the original story too far behind. The moments of the story where the original story is followed closely are quickly turned into a more Japanese and ninja storyline. Cleverly mixed, one never quite knows what is going to happen from page to page, making it all the more delightful to read and even better to share with a group.
Santat’s art has his signature modern style. He has a natural feel for comedic timing and that is used extensively in this book. He mixes in Japanese touches throughout, from the dojo to grandmother’s traditional Japanese home. Bright, bold and filled with action, this book begs to be shared.
Another successful twisted tale, let’s hope there are more ninja folk tales coming! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
West of the Moon by Margi Preus
Astri lives with her stepmother, stepsisters and younger sister until she is sold to the cruel goat farmer. He takes her to his home, refuses to ever let her bathe, has her do drudge work, and doesn’t let her ever return to see her sister. Then Astri discovers another girl kept locked in a storage shed, who spins wool into yarn all day long. Astri escapes the goat farmer, taking his book of spells and his troll treasure. She heads off with the other girl to find her younger sister and then all three flee, heading to find their father in America. But it is a long trip to get to the sea and an even longer trip from Norway to America. Along the way, the goatman continues to pursue them, they meet both friendly faces and cruel, and the story dances along the well-traveled roads of folk tales. Astri slowly pieces together her own story and then resolutely builds herself a new one with her sister by her side.
An incredible weaving of the gold of folktales with the wool of everyday life, this book is completely riveting. Preus has created a story where there are complicated villains, where dreams are folktales and folktales build dreams, where girls have power and courage, and where both evil and kindness come in many forms. It is a book that is worth lingering over, a place worth staying in from awhile, and a book that you never want to end.
Astri is a superb character. Armed with no education but plenty of guts and decisiveness, she fights back against those who would keep her down and separate her from her sister. As the story progresses and she escapes, she becomes all the more daring and free spirited. Her transformation is both breathtaking and honest. One roots for Astri throughout the story, fights alongside her and like Astri wills things to happen.
A wondrously successful and magical story that is interwoven with folktales, this book is a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.
Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
Based on a story from Hans Christian Andersen, this book takes “The Nightingale” and turns it into magical realism. Little John’s family is in turmoil. His little sister died jumping out of a tree, his mother can’t deal with the loss and often forgets that her daughter died, and his father is struggling to make enough money to keep them from being evicted. So Little John has to help his father take down trees to make money. It is at Mr. King’s home that Little John first meets Gayle, a young foster child whose singing voice seems to heal people and who has built a nest high in one of the trees. Then Mr. King decides that he has to record Gayle’s voice and hires Little John to bring her to him within a week. Little John doesn’t want to, so Mr. King resorts to blackmail and money to get him to do it. This story explores responsibility, betrayal, and loss in a poignant and beautiful way.
Loftin’s writing is exquisite and simple. She has taken an old tale and breathed freshness and vibrancy into it. Her setting is tightly woven, just the scope of Little John’s own summer days. It makes the focus very close, intensifying the choices that Little John is forced to make. More than most books for tweens, this one truly asks a character to face an impossible decision and then shows what happens afterwards and how that decision has repercussions for many people.
Little John is a great male protagonist. He is pure boy, resentful of the situation his family is in but also bound to them by love and blood. At the same time, he is a gentle soul, worried about Gayle and the circumstances she is living in. The only character who stretches believability is Mr. King who reads like a stereotypical villain, but he is the only character without nuance.
Magical and beautiful, this is perfect for discussion in a classroom, this book begs to be talked about thanks to its complexity. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
A stunningly inventive retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this debut novel turns the entire tale around over and over again. Born into a world captured under a paper sky, Nyx has been promised as a bride to their demon ruler since she was born. Her father promised tribute when he made a deal with the demon, so Nyx is to be sacrificed. But her sacrifice is not to be without results, so she has been trained to kill her demon husband. On her seventeenth birthday, she is sent to live with her new husband whom she has never met in his incredible castle. She is not expecting to be beguiled by her new husband or by his silent shadow that serves him. But once in the realm of her husband things are different, answers are not as clear, and even the questions shift and change just like the rooms and doors in the castle. Nyx must figure out how she can save not only her family and her world but whether her newfound love can be saved too.
I was amazed when I discovered that this is a debut novel. The writing has a polish and steadiness that would not lead one to believe that when reading. Hodge has managed to take the foundation of the Beauty and the Beast storyline but then transform it, writing her own original world on top of it yet never quite leaving the original too far behind. It is a critical balance in reworking familiar stories, and Hodge manages it admirably. She turns it into something wilder, more frightening and just as beautiful.
Nyx is a wonderful protagonist. I love how prickly she is, how feisty and fiery. She can stand right up to a demon and match wits with him. Yet she is also entirely human, torn by the fact her father chose to sacrifice her, awash with a mix of love and hate for her twin sister, and at times overcome with the situation she finds herself in. Hodge allows these opposite forces to linger, building the tension and not resolving it until the end.
Dramatic, romantic and completely beguiling, this retelling of Beauty and the Beast will get teen hearts racing even as the world twists and turns changing the story. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
Released January 28, 2014.
Ophelia knows that everything worth knowing can be proven with science. Her father is an expert in swords and is helping a museum set up an exhibit. She and her older sister Alice come along, the entire family still aching with the loss of Ophelia and Alice’s mother. As Ophelia wanders the museum in the city where it always snows, she discovers all sorts of amazing things. But by far the most interesting thing she discovers is a boy locked behind a door. He is a prisoner who claims to have lived for centuries though he looks like a boy. And he believes that Ophelia is the person who can save him. So Ophelia starts to help, and along the way, she has to give in to the magic that is around her and discover her own bravery.
A large part of the pleasure of this book is discovering all of the twists and turns of the plot. This retelling of the Snow Queen fairy tale takes an entirely new approach to the story. Foxlee has created a novel that is filled with frightening creatures, dangerous situations, and daring feats. She has incorporated a clock that is counting down to the day that the Snow Queen can finally kill the marvelous boy, so that alone creates a great deal of time pressure. Yet Ophelia is also struggling to keep her family happy and not concerned with her. As the book goes on, the tension is tangible on each page.
Ophelia is a wonderful young protagonist. While she does believe in science and fights against believing in magic, she is also on the adventure of a lifetime. Her mother was a novelist and serves as the voice of courage in her head. Ophelia has a great mix of deep courage and vulnerability. Readers will figure out who the Snow Queen is long before Ophelia does, something that Foxlee uses to continue to crank up the tension.
Magical, frightening and beautifully written, this book is pure warmth and friendship in the face of icy brutality. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss.
Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
This is a fresh version of Little Red Riding Hood. Here Little Red is a pencil and her assignment in school is to write a story, even though it can be quite dangerous. Her teacher gives her a basket of words to use in case of an emergency, but also warns her to stick to her basic story so that she doesn’t get lost. Little Red starts writing but soon tries to add more excitement to her story. Before she knows it, she has bounced right off of the page and into a forest. It’s a forest full of description, but that’s also something that can bog down a story. Little Red has to use a word from her basket to get free. More perils follow with sentences that run on, abandoned punctuation, and a growling voice and twirly tail that lead right to the principal’s office. It is up to Little Red to both be a hero and finish her story.
Holub has written a very engaging new version of Little Red Riding Hood. She successfully ties in tips on writing, not allowing them to force her to leave the basic story path. Her writing is entirely engaging, the format of the story writing works well and she weaves the classic elements of the tale into this one so that it is different but still recognizable.
Sweet’s illustrations are done in her signature combination of cut paper and drawings. Her bright colors add much to the liveliness of the book. She uses the cut paper to good effect throughout, allowing them to set aside important parts of the book as well as using fonts of various styles to really make the book stand out.
A great pick for writing units, this is one of the best changed-up Red Riding Hoods that I’ve seen. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Follow Follow by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse
This is the second book of reverso poems by Singer, following her amazing Mirror Mirror. In a form she invented, Singer tells the stories of fairy tales using a poem and then reversing the lines and changing the punctuation to tell the other side of the story. The result are brain teasing poems that illuminate the darkness inherent in the tales themselves. This group of poems includes stories that may not be familiar to readers, so the index of stories at the end of the book will be welcome.
As with her first book, some of the reversos work better than others. Here my favorites are The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Tortoise and the Hare. All of the poems have a wonderful cleverness and wit to them, making them all infinitely readable and a great deal of fun. This is a celebration of poetry, fairy tales and word play all wrapped into one delight.
Masse’s illustrations are done on wood, giving them a wonderful texture that is reminiscent of tapestries and medieval images. Her use of jewel tones evokes that period even more. All of the images are also double-sided, showing both sides of the poem in one united image.
Perfect for fans of fairy tales, this clever and delicious book will have them seeking out the unfamiliar tales to read them in full. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
Willems never seems to miss with his books and this one is a real treat. Think of chocolate-stuffed little girl bonbons sort of treat! Here the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is changed so that you have three dinosaurs instead. But there’s another really big difference, the three dinosaurs are most certainly NOT setting a trap for Goldilocks. And those three huge bowls of chocolate pudding are just a coincidence, as well as the open front door. The ladder to help her reach the pudding is not part of the trap either. All of those noises in the woods are also not dinosaurs arguing about when to pounce, they are the wind. Even Goldilocks, who never notices anything, starts to realize that something odd is going on in her story, but not before the trap is sprung!
The tone of this book is really what makes it work so very well. It’s the narrator explaining what is happening by using a sarcastic tone and explaining what is not happening. Thanks to the tone, children will immediately understand that something is afoot, though the book is insisting that nothing at all is wrong. It’s a delight to read aloud, because as always Willem’s books have the perfect pacing for sharing.
The illustrations are classic Willems as well. Pigeon and Piggie would be right at home in these pages too. The illustrations too have small touches. Make sure you read the welcome mats and the end pages.
Another fantastic read from Mo Willems. Add this to your dinosaur story times or units on twisted fairy tales. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Balzer + Bray.
In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
A companion novel to A Tale Dark & Grimm, this book continues to celebrate the darkness and horror that is part of real fairy tales. This time the focus expands beyond The Brothers Grimm to also include Hans Christian Andersen and Christina Rossetti among others as inspiration. This is the story of Jack and Jill and their adventures. Yes, there is a broken crown and also a beanstalk to climb. There is also a talking frog to be kissed, a goblin market to explore, and monsters to either battle or befriend. There is plenty of blood, anger, misery, hunger and torment too. Sound like the sort of book you’d enjoy? I thought so!
Gidwitz has continued with his narrator who warns readers about what is about to happen, most of the time. There is a wonderful playfulness in this approach that lightens the sometimes very grim storylines. The interwoven tales, some of them original and all of them slightly twisted, make for a great read. The writing is strong and vibrant and a joy to read.
The characters of Jack and Jill are both wrestling with different issues, but both come down to the same thing. The two of them need to focus more on what they themselves think and not about what others think of them. Jill struggles with her mother’s focus on beauty, resulting in her walking the street naked in a spin on The Emperor’s Clothes. Jack wishes he was a leader rather than a follower, and is tormented by the other boys. He’s even mocked with a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The two children start out very likeable and relatable but turn out to be true heroes in the end.
This engaging story and pair of books is one that will get reluctant readers reading with its promises of gore and disgusting content, but is will be most enjoyed by children familiar with the original tales. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Children’s Books.