The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (9781250147905)
For all of Alice’s seventeen years, she and her mother have been moving from one place to another. Her childhood is a blur of long car rides, the novels she read in different places, and the love of her mother. When Alice tries to ask about people like her grandmother, a reclusive author of a book of fairy tales that has a strong cult following, her mother won’t answer. So when they get news of her grandmother’s death in her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice longs to go. When her mother disappears, Alice and her classmate Finch set out to rescue her from the Hinterland, the setting of her grandmother’s book. Can Alice and Finch survive the dangers of a fairy tale world made real?
As a longtime fan of fairy tales, I loved this book. I particularly appreciated the fanged and bloody approach to these stories, ones that have echoes of traditional tales but are also entirely unique. Albert bridges Alice’s grandmother’s book into the novel cleverly, offering glimpses of the stories but never giving them all to the reader or to Alice. They are tantalizing peeks at the stories that are warnings mixed with welcomes. The entire novel is like this, beckoning readers in but also offering cruelty as a reward.
Alice is an equally fascinating figure who is deliciously flawed, filled with an anger that hovers just under her skin. She sees her mother as the one person she has in life, thanks in large part to their nomad lifestyle, as they flee the dangers that suddenly appear. The writing throughout the book is incredibly beautiful, angry and fiery. Albert weavers new metaphors with an ease that is deceptive, creating magic in the real world before moving on to do it in a fairy tale as well.
A great read, this blend of fairy tale and horror is completely intoxicating. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Netgalley and Flatiron Books.
Brave Red, Smart Frog by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason (9780763665586)
A fresh retelling of classic fairy tales that ties them together into a single world, this book for elementary readers makes these stories accessible. Beautifully told, the stories all come together around a frozen woods and the magic of kisses, some of which break an enchantment and such of which create one. Around these central themes and settings, beloved stories spin. The stories include Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, The Frog Prince, and Hansel and Gretel. Other lesser known stories are also there, including one of my favorites Toads and Pearls. Jenkins invites readers into her stories and honors the classic tale, but also inserts a touch of humor, a feeling of convergence, and a dynamic storytelling style. Perfect for sharing classic stories with slightly older children, this book is fresh and exciting. Appropriate for ages 6-8. (ARC provided by Candlewick Press.)
Good Night, Planet by Liniers (9781943145201)
A little girl goes to sleep with her favorite stuffed animal, Planet, at her side. Once she is sleeping, Planet gets out of bed and starts his own adventures. They involve visiting with the dog, eating some cookies together, climbing a tree and seeing the full moon. Getting down from the tree is an adventure in itself and takes a bit of a run and a leap. They befriend a mouse along the way, share some more cookies together and then return to bed. Based on Liniers’ own daughter’s stuffed animal and their family dog, this book is gentle and lovely. It’s a great introduction to graphic novels for young children and a way to get new readers more confident. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Toon Books.)
The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (InfoSoup)
I’m not really sure how to best review this work. It has a brilliant foreword by Neil Gaiman, who says, “Shaun Tan makes me want to hold these tales close, to rub them with my fingers, to feel the cracks and the creases and the edges of them.” The introduction by fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes states, “…Tan has transformed the Grimms’ tales into miraculous artworks that will move and speak for themselves.” I can only echo this sentiment, because the sculptures that Tan has created bring the Brothers Grimm stories into reality, make the solid and strange in a way that reading them doesn’t.
The sculptures are brilliant, showing aspects of familiar stories that bring new meaning to the tales but also revealing new and less familiar stories to readers and inviting them to indulge in more darkness and wonder. Turning the pages in this book is like a journey filled with gasps of disbelief and realization. New images are revealed on each page and so are the intimate hearts of the tales.
A stunning and brilliant series of sculptures with glimpses into the tales they represent. This book shows older children that the darkness of Grimm tales will still call to them. Appropriate for ages 9-13.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
Snow White by Matt Phelan (InfoSoup)
The Snow White tale is redone with a new setting and great villains in this graphic novel. Snow White’s mother dies in 1918 and she is left with her father who is the King of Wall Street. Soon after her mother’s death, her father falls for the Queen of the Follies, a performer who immediately sends Snow White away to school. When the stock market crashes, her father survives only to die suddenly. Snow White returns home to find that there is no place for her there, only to be rescued by seven small urchins on the street. Meanwhile, her stepmother takes her dire instructions from a ticker tape machine that orders her to KILL.
With all of the magnificence of the roaring 20s that then tumble into the Great Depression, this graphic novel version of the beloved tale truly rethinks the story and recreates it in a new and vivid way. Keeping true to core parts of the original story, this version has the wicked queen, a new version of the seven dwarves, the huntsman ordered to kill Snow White, and apples. Throughout there is darkness, violence and murder. Exactly what any great noir mystery needs.
If you have enjoyed Phelan’s previous graphic novels, he continues his use of watercolor in this book. Done in grays, blacks, blues and shot with touches of red, the art has a painterly feel to it that is unusual in graphic novels. There is a lovely roughness to the framing of the panels, giving the entire book a natural and organic feel.
A brilliant retelling of a classic tale, this dark story is a striking and brilliant departure. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith (InfoSoup)
This riff on the Little Red Riding Hood story is filled with humor and twists that will delight. Little Red’s auntie has woken up with spots and so Little Red must cross the Savannah to bring her some medicine and some doughnuts. Little Red makes it past all sorts of animals until she stops in the shad of a tree. That’s when the Very Hungry Lion appears. When he asks Little Red where she is off to, the Lion hatches a plan that involves pretending to be her auntie and then eating both Little Red and her aunt. Little Red though is not fooled at all. So when she sees the Lion in her auntie’s clothes and in her bed, Little Red launches into action. Soon the Lion has a new hairstyle, has brushed his teeth and changed into a ruffled dress. The Lion though has had enough and roars. Little Red does not back down and soon a friendship is starting, with some strict rules in place.
Little Red is a great heroine. She is smart and fearless, facing down a hungry lion with stern warnings. It is also the humor of this book that works so well. The braiding of the Lion’s hair is a wonderful moment as is his changing clothes once again at Little Red’s insistence. It is in those moments that story becomes something new and fresh and where the audience will understand that this is a very different Little Red Riding Hood than in the original tale.
Smith’s art is zany and bright. The look on the Lion’s face is lovely, particularly when Little Red is forcing him to do things. Little Red pops on the page with her red dress and arching braids. She is particularly small next to the huge lion and still manages to hold her own on each page. Filled with humor and color, these are images that will work with groups of children very well.
One to roar about, add this to your twists on well-known tales or in any story time about lions. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Nibbles the Book Monster by Emma Yarlett
Nibbles is a monster who eats his way through all sorts of things, but his favorites are books. Soon Nibbles has left this picture book entirely and chewed his way right into a fairy tale instead. There he meets Goldilocks who desperately tries to explain the huge damage Nibbles leaves behind to the three angry bears. Nibbles next moves on to Little Red Riding Hood where Little Red is entirely shut out of the story and Nibbles saves Grandma from the wolf. Next comes Jack and the Beanstalk where Nibbles bites a bit of giant rump and steals the golden goose. The goose drops Nibbles back into his cage but wait, could it be that he is nibbling once again?
Yarlett very successfully combines a hungry little yellow monster with fractured fairy tales in this dynamic picture book. She keeps the menu lean and focused, just enough of a glimpse of each of the stories to understand the story clearly and then Nibbles messes everything up and dashes off. The story books are built into the pages as flaps to turn, adding to the appeal of the book. The same is true of Nibbles’ cage where children both release him in the beginning and capture him again at the end.
The artwork is filled with humor and the flaps add a level of participation to the book. Yarlett’s art really works well in the small story books themselves where her style changes as one enters each book. There is the playful cartoon of Goldilocks, the muted black-and-white colors with pops of red for Little Red Riding Hood, and a more vintage feel for Jack and the Beanstalk. These changes in the artistic style really make each book feel unique and as if they really have just been discovered in a pile.
Cleverly designed and immensely appealing, this picture book is worth a nibble or two. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Kane Miller.
Bloom by Doreen Cronin and David Small (InfoSoup)
Bloom was a fairy who dealt in dirt and plants. She could spin sand into glass and turn small amounts of water into rivers. She lived in a glass kingdom and as the years passed, the kingdom’s inhabitants only saw the mess that Bloom left behind with her mud and not the way that she helped. Bloom finally left and went to live in the forest. More years passed and the glass kingdom started to fall into disrepair. The king remembered the powerful fairy and went to seek her help, because such a creature could only be asked by a monarch. But when Bloom offered the king to save his kingdom with mud, the king stormed off. The queen tried too with similar effect. Finally, they decided that they must send someone ordinary to ask Bloom for help and so Genevieve was selected. It will take a girl working with a fairy to save the kingdom, but even more it will take getting dirty along the way.
Cronin has created a story that is surprising and delightful. This is a fairy tale where girls save the day rather than being rescued by princes. It reads like a traditional fairy tale but with a feminist viewpoint that is not overplayed at all. There is also a beautiful attitude about getting your hands dirty and the fact that hard work is the way to solve problems along with working together.
Small’s illustrations are playful with delicate lines that swoop on the page. They are alive with action, particularly when Bloom is on the page. Small captures the delight of mud and getting dirty, the connection of the two girls, and the efforts that it takes to rebuild a kingdom even with magic. I must also mention the text design, which makes the book a joy to read aloud, creating real feeling around words like MUD and DIRT.
A feminist and intelligent fairy tale just right for modern children. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker by Jessica Ahlberg (InfoSoup)
When Lucy tries to share a story with her dog, Mr. Barker, he follows a butterfly right out the window. As Lucy follows him through the window, they end up in the house of the Three Bears with Goldilocks eating porridge at the table. Then the three bears come home and it’s time for the two girls to follow the dog into the next story. They head right into the Three Little Pigs where a wolf is on his way to the house. One-by-one Lucy has different protagonists join her from several fairy tales and they get chased by all sorts of characters as well. Just as they are almost caught though, they return to Lucy’s room where she tucks them all in bed with a story.
Ahlberg has a great touch for the dramatic in this picture book. She cleverly offers just enough information for the reader to recognize the story that Lucy and Mr. Barker have entered. Then she gives the reveal on the next page, so parents and adult readers will know that children should be given a chance to guess the story. In that way, it is also an invitation to read stories that small children may not know yet, like Jack and the Beanstalk.
Ahlberg uses cutouts in this picture book, having each switch to a new story as a cut out through which the characters climb. There are windows, doorways and then even holes in cheese that make great escape routes to another tale. The illustrations have Ahlberg’s signature softness and fine lines where watercolors have an appealing mix of bright colors and gentleness.
A winning mix of cut outs to jump through, fairy tales to explore and a guessing game too, this picture book is a great choice for children who love fairy tales. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu (InfoSoup)
Silly is the youngest of four sisters and the older sisters tend to leave her out of a lot, like the secret boyfriend one of the twins has and what they are doing for hours in their bedroom so quietly. Their family has moved to New Hampshire to a home that used to be used just in the summer, the house where their mother grew up. But the move is not helping their mother who is quickly declining into alcoholism and abusive behavior. It isn’t until their mother turns on Silly too that the sisters bring Silly into their secret: their closet can take them to a different world. The sisters are shocked when Silly joins them and the magic becomes much stronger. As the sisters turn more and more to the closet for relief from their lives, they have to face the darkness they discover there as well. It may just be the answer for them all.
Haydu has created a lush book based loosely on The Twelve Dancing Princesses. She embraces the darkness of family life, offering a family dancing on the edge of something terrible, avoiding the truth about what is happening to their mother and what happened in her past, a father unable to cope with reality, and children trying to hold them all together. It is against that dark backdrop that the closets glimmer and glitter, beckoning the sisters and the reader to a different place where there is wonder and magic. But escaping into that place is not reality and Haydu shows this with a daring climax that speaks volumes about facing truth and being a family.
A book filled with four sisters can be challenging. Haydu pulls it off with grace and style, offering each of the girls a distinct personality but keeping them from being stereotypical. Silly is the main character, a girl who has been left out of much that the sisters have done and feels that she has no special sister to pair with the way the twins do. Silly feels alone even in a bustling houseful of people, which speaks volumes about her family. Silly is also the one protected from much of the abuse, but she witnesses more than the others do.
This brilliant starry novel takes a dark reality and a dazzling magic and creates wonder all its own. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from library copy.