A Tale Dark and Grimm

Grimm’s fairy tales are everywhere I read these days.  In reviewing Toni Morrison’s new book God Help the Child for the New York Times, Kara Walker identified this as a child abuse story –  “a brisk modern-day fairy tale with shades of the Brothers Grimm…hungering for warmth.”  Alexandra Alter mentioned a Grimm story for older children – Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm – in her article about children’s book editor Julie Strauss-Gabel (The Barbed Pen of Best Sellers).” Gidwitz’s first book, thanks to the clever editing of Strauss-Gabel, was named a 2010 Best Children’s Book by Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, and the book was followed by two more in the trilogy.

Although Gidwitz’s dark and scary tale is written for middle schoolers, like many children’s books, adults can find an abundance of relatable material. The theme of parenting – mostly bad parenting – is the focus for following Hansel and Gretel through a series of original and incredibly violent Grimm fairy tales.  The action is gruesome and scary, punctuated by the author’s sly teasing to turn away before the next horrible event – meant to goad readers to keep reading, of course.  Lessons are learned about the meaning of finding yourself, finding your home, and finding forgiveness.

“It will happen to you, Dear Reader, at some point in your life. You will face a moment very much like the one Hansel and Gretel are facing right now. In this moment, you will look at your parents and realize that – no matter what it sounds like they are saying – they are actually asking you for forgiveness.”

9780142419670_p0_v2_s260x420Hansel and Gretel are beheaded; fingers are cut off; girls are dismembered, and more…but all is well in the end – a fairy tale ending?

If you have not found this gem – and don’t mind a little blood and guts – read it with your favorite middle schooler – or alone at night when the wind is howling.

Adult Books That Appeal to Younger Readers – Alex Awards

UnknownThe American Library Association annually awards the “Alex” to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.    The books are not necessarily easy reading, and often include coming of age themes, dysfunctional families, and sometimes aliens.  Among this year’s winners is Brewster by Mark Slouka.

Winners for 2013 included some of my favorites. Recommend them to your favorite teen or read them yourself, if you haven’t already. You can find my reviews by typing in the title to the “Search” on this website.

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Among this year’s winners, two have gone on my reading list:

  • Relish by Lucy Knisley – a graphic novel telling the author’s life around food, complete with family recipes.
  • The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence – a boy’s adventure after he is hit on the head by a meteorite.
Enhanced by Zemanta

The Diviners – ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults (2013)

9780316126113_p0_v1_s260x420When the American Library Association names a book on its best fiction list, the story is usually guaranteed a page turner, and Libba Bray’s The Diviners would have my vote too.

Although this young adult fiction does follow a formula with stereotyped characters and a predictable plot, Bray uses the setting to give a history lesson on Manhattan in the Jazz Age from a teen perspective.  The main character, Evie, a rebellious yet charming seventeen year old, who is banished from a small town in Ohio to the big city to live with her bachelor professor uncle, encounters the joys of the Ziegfeld Follies with Eddie Cantor, secret clubs with forbidden booze,  music at the Hotsy Totsy club, and Clara Bow haircuts.  Bray weaves the seamy side of numbers runners, the Eugenics movement, and the Chinese Exclusion Act into the horrors of a monster returning from the dead and a spooky house on the hill.

Evie’s supporting cast includes two love interests, one a steady hunk with a strange past and the other a rakish thief with the power to disappear; the others – her supportive unpopular friend, a gay piano player, a black numbers runner who writes poetry – follow the star seventeen year old flapper into solving the case of a serial murderer who plans to eat his way to redemption and a new world order – think “Silence of the Lambs” crossed with “Seven.”  Although some of the scenes are gory, Bray keeps the action moving quickly to the inevitable satisfying ending, when the world is saved – for a while anyway.

The last few chapters are strained as they establish the premise for the sequel, but to her credit, Bray does tie up the loose ends of the initial plot in this first book.  Teens who follow vampires and zombies may find another set to track in these superheroes (Diviners) with Mentalist powers.  One was enough for me, but I had fun with this quick diversionary read.

Other YA Books Recommended by the Librarian:

Young adult books are fun and quick reads – some better than others.  My friendly librarian recommends these debut novels:

A Girl Named Digit by Annabel Monaghan

With current events focusing on a computer nerd who can crack codes, this timely teen novel’s heroine, Farrah  “Digit” Higgins is a high school genius bound for MIT. After this daughter of a UCLA math professor unknowingly cracks a terrorist group’s number sequence,  she is recruited by the FBI, running from terrorists, faking her own kidnapping, and romancing a handsome agent.

Poison by Bridget Zinn

When medieval sixteen year old potion maker, Kyra, tries to protect her kingdom, the plan backfires and she becomes a fugitive in this fantasy adventure.  Although the premise has the possibilities for sequels, this young author died before her book was published.

Between the Lines

Samantha Van Leer collaborated with her famous mother and author, Jodi Picoult, to write this fairy tale that has a character from a book come alive and yearn to escape his story prison – a teen reader and her Prince.

Dead End in Norvelt – 2012 Newbery Award Winner

Looks like it’s going to be a long 1962 summer after Jackie is grounded for shooting his father’s World War II rifle at the drive-in movie screen (he didn’t know it was loaded). His only reprieve is helping elderly Miss Volker write obituaries for this small Pennsylvania town newspaper, and helping his father dig a bomb shelter and a runway in the corn field behind their house.  Jack Gantos mixes history with humor in his award-winning young adult book – Dead End in Norvelt.

As each elder citizen dies, Miss Volker, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, records their unique contribution to the town as well as adding a few kernels of historic significance to the obituaries, citing significant happenings all over the world occurring on the same day.  Gantos delivers the laughs along with a history lesson.

The action shifts when a group of Hells Angels burns down a house in the town and the town’s little old ladies start dying daily. The town undertaker buys the land of his dead customers, and pay Jackie’s father to tow the houses to a town in West Virginia.  Suddenly, a murder plot is suspected and an autopsy confirms that mushrooms, casseroles, chocolates, or Girl Scout cookies are all the possible murder weapons.

Gantos cannot resist one last laugh with a morality lesson in the end, but leaves with a nostalgic nod to history and the ever-changing times.

This Year’s Caldecott Winner – A Ball for Daisy

Wordless stories are winning awards this year – from best picture Oscar for “The Artist” to Chris Raschka’s Caldecott picture book – A Ball For Daisy. In Raschka’s story a lively little white dog (who reminds me of one in my life) chases a big red ball, his favorite toy. He even takes a nap with it (his substitute blankie).

When a playful larger dog sinks his teeth into the ball and pops it at the dog park, our dog hero is soulfully bereft – he can’t even sleep anymore. Eventually, the bully dog’s owner produces another ball for our hero – this one blue – and all is well again. The last frame has him peacefully napping, snuggled up to his new blue ball.

The expressions Raschka draws on the hero will be familiar to anyone who owns a dog; when the red ball pops, he morphs from wonder, to shaking the deflated rubber, to howling, to finally bereavement – in 8 frames with no words.

Whether you read the book as a statement on loss and recovery, or just enjoy Raschka’s emotion-laden drawings, Daisy will become a new favorite character.