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.
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.