2014 Book #22: A Tale Dark and Grimm

taledarkandgrimmI’m really disappointed that I didn’t like A Tale Dark and Grimm. It’s a retelling of various Grimm’s Fairy Tales for kids with lots of the gore left in. I’ve read some brilliant kids’ books in the past few months, and I was expecting something similar. That’s not what I got. Adam Gidwitz‘s writing lacks the creativity I look for in children’s books. That said, if I was a kid, I’d probably like it, if only because all of the gore seems a little taboo after the fairy tales we’re used to. I guess I’m too old to enjoy this one, which happens disappointingly often with books like The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Perks of Being a Wallflower – and, really, with The MagiciansAt the same time, though, if I’m too old for A Tale Dark and Grimm, I shouldn’t have enjoyed The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making half as much as I did.

I read A Tale Dark and Grimm after I saw Adam Gidwitz speak at Artbreak this weekend. He’s a fantastic speaker, and he seems like a really nice guy. I so wanted to enjoy this book. My problem, I think, is it’s too much of Grimm and not enough of his own work.

Artbreak 2014

Here’s what happens. Hansel and Gretel are inserted into a slew of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which are strung together to make a reasonably sensible story. These aren’t your usual fairy tales: the murder and general gore is left in and presented almost like it’s a secret. As the story progresses, the author inserts himself with asides in bold print, saying things like “little kids should leave the room so they don’t get too scared” and making other super-preachy statements about the moral of the story and such. That was fun for the first few pages, but it got old very quickly. The end is tied up together too sweetly, even for a kids’ book, and what the reader should have learned is written blatantly on the page in one of Gidwitz’s asides. No critical thinking is involved, which annoys me, especially in kids’ books. There are also parts that just don’t make sense, he says, because fairy tales often don’t make sense, but he’s trying to make them into a coherent novel, so I wish he’d put a little work into that.

Which is basically my problem with A Tale Dark and Grimm. At the talk, Gidwitz answered a question about writer’s block by suggesting that kids steal their basic story from somewhere and adapt it to their own purposes, like Harry Potter and Star Wars follow the same basic pattern. Except that’s not what Gidwitz did: he just adapted someone else’s stories and did very little of the making-it-his-own part. There is, of course, a benefit to bringing Grimm’s Fairy Tales to a younger audience, but I set this in with those illustrated and abridged classics like Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island that used to sell for 50¢ in grocery stores when I was a kid. When I got older and read the real thing, I felt cheated, that I should have spent my time reading a real book, even if it was written for contemporary kids.

All of that said, I think that Adam Gidwitz is fantastic as a speaker. He was a teacher, and it shows. He quickly memorized the names of every kid in attendance and addressed them directly and non-condescendingly. I really enjoyed listening to him and meeting him. Which was why I picked up the book in the first place and why I was so disappointed in it. I’m pretty sure this was his first published book, so maybe he got better (Suzanne Collins did!), though the future works he talked about seemed about the same: he’s contracted to write an adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, which is very cool, and he’s working on adaptations of medieval myths kind of like his Grimm series. That also makes me wonder if he shares my inability to come up with a plot on my own (which is one reason I don’t write), but has found an ingenious way to get over writer’s block by rewriting what others have already done. And does that make it just a gimmick?

Also: I’ve embedded a slideshow of the few photos I took at Artbreak! It looked amazing.

Artbreak is what I remember of the Revel from my childhood, but it’s so much more interesting than the Revel! Maybe I was remembering Artbreak, and the Revel has, indeed, been mostly a collection of crappy, generic fleur-de-lis art since I was little. I don’t know how I missed Artbreak for the past several years. It makes me proud to live in Shreveport!

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