The idea of retelling Grimm fairy tales with their darker roots intact isn't exactly something new in fantasy literature (even one of the books I read earlier this month, The Mermaid's Madness by Jim C. Hines, embraces this concept), but I've never seen such a grim retelling of fairy tales with such a young audience in mind (middle readers). Adam Gidwitz, the author, manages to soften the blow somewhat by introducing an omniscient narrator that will often interrupt the story to warn of horrible events coming up, letting the reader know that younger children should possibly leave the room. This is mostly an effective tool, although by the end of the novel I found myself wishing that the narrator could just quiet down and let me finish the story.
A Tale Dark and Grimm is a unique and satisfying reading experience. The first half of the book feels more like a short story collection, as each chapter retells an individual fairy tale, while the second half breaks free of that format to tell a larger story involving Hansel, Gretel, and their parents. I found I enjoyed this, as it allowed the reader to become exposed to a lot of fairy tales, while still feeling like a novel. I was also happy to see that A Tale Dark and Grimm doesn't only tell well known fairy tales (such as "Hansel and Gretel"), but also more unappreciated ones such as “Brother and Sister” and “The Three Golden Hairs.” These may be well known by fairy tale enthusiasts but not the everyday reader. Gidwitz does a good job of putting his own spin on these original fairy tales. Many of the tales retold here, are retooled to fit Hansel and Gretel's story, and I think it works well.
I picked up A Tale Dark & Grimm because it was on this years Maine Student Book Award list. As a Maine librarian I feel compelled to make an effort to read many titles from the list. I'm glad that I picked it up, as I really do enjoy fairy tale retellings, and feel that Gidwitz did a good job of making his stand out. It's true that the narrator gets on my nerves, but I found the rest of the book to be quite enjoyable.
Rating: four stars
Length: 256 pages
Source: Readfield Community Library
Similar Books: The tone of this book is very similar to Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. The format reminded me of Neil Gaimain's The Graveyard Book. If you're looking for retold fairy tales for a middle reader audience, Gail Carson Levine is always recommended.
Other books I've read by this author: This is my first
Next up, I'll be reviewing The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente and Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacCool