Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derk Hughes, illustrated by Nathan Christopher (9781524793029)
This modern twist on Humpty Dumpty is a dark and yet hopeful version. Humpty Dumpty is just one of many fairy tale creatures who works for hours for the King under fluorescent lights. They all work and live in the dark shadow of the wall, in a world where they have been forbidden to dream. But Humpty Dumpty has a dream, a dream of seeing over the wall. He had many ideas and decided to build himself a very tall ladder. He finished the ladder, brought it to the wall, and climbed up, up, up to the very top. But the next morning, all that was left were shattered pieces of egg shell and a broken ladder. The wall and the King had won, or had they?
The rhyming text of this book is so cleverly done. It plays with the convention of rhymes in fairy tales and nursery rhymes, yet it never has a jaunty tune here, playing out more like a funeral dirge. The modern touches of fluorescent lights and TV blend into the fairy tale world that Hughes has created. This is a story that mixes our national issues with political walls along with a capitalistic monarchy to great result, a mix of sorrow and hope that is so powerful.
Christopher’s illustrations are simply incredible. Done in pen and ink with no color, they are filled with fine lines and details. It is those details that create an entire dark world for Humpty Dumpty and the others. Walls are built with skulls, thorns fill the borders, roots tangle the floors. The pages are populated by all sorts of fairy tale creatures, some with specific names like Chicken Little and the Mad Hatter and others who are more general like gnomes, fairies, and giants. These are pages to lose yourself in, looking at the details, seeing new things each time.
Incredible, political and edgy, this picture book is for slightly older children who will enjoy the details and the tone. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Penguin Workshop.
Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards, illustrated by Eric Barclay (9781524773748)
A very naive king and queen tell their fairy godmother that they want to start a family. They’d like a child that they can place either on the hearth next to a vase or out in the garden by the roses. They say that a boy would be great, but “any kid will do.” So at the next full moon, they open their castle door to discover a baby goat on their doorstep. They reluctantly bring the goat into their perfectly designed home where it immediately starts eating things, butting statues, and even pooping on the floor. When they remove the goat to the garden though, they eventually rush out on a rainy night to rescue it and bring it back home. They think it is only for one night, but soon the goat has lived with them for months. When the fairy godmother returns though, she is surprised about the goat and realizes that a mistake has been made! When the human child is discovered living with a goat family, she abruptly moves the children back to their biological parents. However, families aren’t quite that simple.
This fractured fairytale sets up the scene very quickly and the entire story moves at a wonderful pace. The text is simple and carries the story well, offering just enough detail to create plenty of humor. The chaos of a goat in their perfect lives is just right, eating everything in sight and destroying plenty of the rest. It’s a great metaphor for any new child entering a home and the destruction of the ideal plans that have been made. The resolution of the confusion of the child and kid is very satisfying and will have readers cheering along.
The illustrations by Barclay are wonderfully detailed and rich. He uses a nice mix of simple scenes and then more elaborate ones with some images having elaborate borders and others showing the splendor of the castle. The mix is very successful, always paying attention to leaving enough white space for the eye.
Let’s not kid around, this is a great picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
The Great Gran Plan by Elli Woollard, illustrated by Steven Lenton (9781250186034)
Reviewed June 18, 2019.
This fractured fairy tale mixes the story of the Three Little Pigs together with Little Red Riding Hood into one wild caper. When the wolf is unable to blow down the house of bricks, the pig finds the wolf’s next plot: to gobble down Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother! So pig sets off to save her. But first, he must gather supplies. He shops for a superhero cape, but all they have is a shawl. He puts that on and tries to find binoculars, but all they have are red eyeglasses on a chain. He wears those with the shawl and finds a lack of rope, which he substitutes yarn for. So when he heads into the woods to save Granny, he looks rather like a grandmother himself!
Woollard has managed to create a rhyming picture book that avoids being too sing-songy or stilted. Instead she merrily plays with rhymes both internal and at the ends of lines, creating a jaunty feel that reads aloud beautifully. Her fractured tale is filled with plenty of action and readers will realize that pig is starting to look like a grandmother long before he does in the book. That adds to the merriment factor immensely. Add in the anything-but-frail Granny and this book is a lot of fun.
Lenton’s illustrations are bright and bold. Filled with touches like the pig-shaped vehicle that pig drives, the three bears selling items in three different sizes, and even a store called “Rope-unzel’s.” This is a world filled with other stories that are hinted at in the illustrations and are entirely delightful.
A fun fractured fairy tale with one big bad wolf, who is sure to lose. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt & Co.
Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (9781250151773)
This is the third book by this author and illustrator pair that looks at worldwide stories and myths focused around a single type of story. In this picture book, they look at the prevalence of underdogs and fearlessness in the face of danger from around the world. Fleischman takes elements from stories from around the world and weaves them together into a multi-stranded story that pays homage to the differences in the tales while at the same time noting their similarities. Stories are pulled from Denmark, Italy, Ethiopia, Japan, Russia, Mongolia, Indonesia, England and several other countries. Together they tell the story of a young person who stands up to power and greed, often proving his own family wrong along the way. These are stories that will make you cheer for the child and their worth.
A master storyteller, Fleischman manages to create a singular story here while never taking away the signature pieces from each of the countries. Some pages have multiple threads that appear together on the page, noting the differences. Other pages carry the story forward, offering unique elements from that country’s version of the story. Along the way, there are ogres, kings, monsters, horses, bulls, jewels and harps. Still, the entire story works as a whole as well, creating a riveting tale of ingenuity.
Paschkis has created enthralling illustrations that tell each thread of the story in turn. The illustrations are framed by images that represent the country the story comes from. The Chilean pages has boars and guinea pigs. The Greek page is done in the signature blue and white with fish. At times, the images flow together just as the stories do to create a unique whole that still works as separate images.
Cleverly written and designed, this is one for every library. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt.
The Girl and the Wolf by Katherena Vermette, illustrated by Julie Flett (9781926886541)
When a little girl wanders too far from her mother while they are picking berries, she finds herself lost in the woods. Unable to figure out how to return home, she starts to panic. Suddenly, a large gray wolf appears and using his nose, figures how where she comes from. But night is falling, so the wolf asks the girl a series of questions that demonstrate how much she really knows. He encourages her to take a deep breath, close her eyes, and then look. When the girl does this, she realizes that she can see berries that are safe to eat and water that is safe to drink. She eats and drinks, then the wolf encourages her to breathe deeply again. Now she recognizes the stand of trees nearby and finds her way back to her mother who explains that she has heard of wolves that help lost children. The little girl later leaves a gift of thanks for the wolf’s aid.
This book is a complete re-imagining of the Little Red Riding Hood story into one with a First Nation spin. Vermette is a Metis writer from Treaty One territory in Winnipeg. She has entirely turned Little Red Riding Hood into a story of the strength of a little girl who only needs help to figure out that she had the ability all along. The quiet and encouraging wolf is such a shift from European stories, energizing the entire picture book with his presence.
Flett’s illustrations keep the little girl in red, clearly tying this new story to its origins. The wolf is almost as large as the girl, making his threatening presence strong when he first appears but also offering a real sense of strength as he is better understood as the tale unfolds. The art is filled with strong shapes and rich colors.
An entirely new telling of Little Red Riding Hood, this is one to share when learning about independence and mindfulness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (9781681195087)
Prince Rhen has been cursed along with his entire kingdom into repeating the same season over and over again until a girl falls in love with him. At the end of each season, he fails and turns into a monster who slays his own people. Now he is left with a single guardsman, Grey, who has pledged to stay at his side. Each season, Grey transports himself to Washington, D.C. and steals a girl to try to break the curse. Then one year, he steals Harper, a girl who was not his chosen one but instead one who tried to attack Grey and save the girl he was attempting to kidnap. Harper may not have been Grey’s choice, but now she is the only chance they have at breaking the curse since the sorceress who placed the curse has declared this the final season. As Harper steps into the role of princess, she refuses to conform to expectations. She is intent on making a difference to the suffering people of the kingdom even if they underestimate her due to her cerebral palsy. But will it be enough to end the curse? Will love come?
I approach every retelling of a fairy tale with trepidation. There are few that can really transform the tale into something new and fresh. Kemmerer does exactly that with her retelling of Beauty and the Beast. She creates two amazing male characters, each compelling in their own way and with their own special bond with one another too. She adds one of the nastiest sorceresses around, Lilith, who is willing to provide endless pain to Rhen, Grey and anyone else she can. Kemmerer then laces this story with the psychology of reliving the same year again and again, with immense failure, slaughter, remorse and despair. The result is a dark rather than dreamy story, filled with pain, blood, battles and strategy.
Harper is an incredible heroine. Her having cerebral palsy is interwoven into the story, not as an aside but as a part of her life experience that gives her context for helping others and seeing beyond the surface to their potential. She is honest and forthright, and yet willing to use subterfuge and lies to make a positive difference for those she cares about. She is entirely complicated and every inch a princess and heroine.
A great retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this book stands on its own merits. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Damsel by Elana K. Arnold (9780062742346)
For generations stretching back into time, when the king dies, the prince must head into the wilderness and slay a dragon. He will then rescue the damsel and return home to wed her. Emory succeeds in slaying his dragon and returns home with Ama, the damsel that he has named and saved. Ama remembers nothing about being the dragon’s captive, and slowly learns about the ways of the patriarchal society she finds herself in. She is expected to quickly become interested in dresses and weddings, to spend time indoors and to be quiet and compliant. But Ama has a few lingering memories that surface and retreat. She has a pet lynx that she refuses to give up. And she has no desire to be Emory’s bride or subject herself to his abuses. But what power could a damsel possibly have in this position, given that her rescuer is also the man determined to subjugate her at every turn?
This is one of those YA books that will get people angry. It is one that will turn off entire groups of readers because of triggers like rape and molestation. But it is also a brilliant feminist take on fairy tales and our modern society. It is about power and submission, about risks and compliance, about submission and refusal. The book takes all of the tropes of being a newly-discovered princess and turns them on their head. It looks at the gorgeous gowns, comfortable castle, wealth and prestige. And then it asks dark questions about what is being given up.
Arnold’s writing is lush and gorgeous. Ama is a character who is immensely frustrating. She submits so quickly and complains to little, having just a few things that are dear to her and giving up so much. Readers will find her impossible and yet there is something about her, a snared animal, that makes it difficult to look away. One simply must know the real truth of the book and whether Ama will eventually give in.
A powerful read that will be enjoyed by young feminists looking for a dark read. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.
The Princess and the Pit Stop by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by Dan Santat (9781419728488)
In a car race, the princess is forced to pull off for a pit stop to refuel. While in the pit stop, she is told that she is in last place with only one lap to go. Maybe it is time to give up? But instead she hits the gas. Car by car, she moves up through the ranks, passing different fairy tale characters along the way. Narrated by the Frog Prince speaking into a mic, the excitement builds. She goes over Tom Thumb and under the giant. She zooms past other characters like the Big Bad Wolf, the Three Little Pigs, the Seven Dwarves, the Ugly Duckling and many more. In the end, it is down to her and the Ugly Stepsisters as they race up to a cliff’s edge.
Angleberger writes with a directness that works very well for a book told primarily through a microphone and an excited frog. The book could have been just a list of different storybook characters, but with Angleberger’s humor it becomes a series of jokes and puns that make the book really rev. Santat’s art is stellar, creating a book with lots of different perspectives. It incorporates the feel of a graphic novel and also has the colorful playfulness of a picture book.
A funny and incredible book filled with girl power and glory. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
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.