Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist

YOLEN, Jane & . illus. by Matt Mahurin. 40p. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. 2013. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-867-7.
Gr 3–5—Mining the world of standard fairy tales, these poems are presented in the voices of the various characters. The pea relates his tale of woe upon being smashed by the princess. The giant's wife from "Jack and the Beanstalk" takes pity on the boy and facilitates his escape. A wounded Cinderella regrets her choice of shoes, and an introspective Beauty wonders if she chose the right spouse. A table of contents as well as summaries of the original tales augment the text. Stunning painterly illustrations may compensate for a few less-than-thrilling twists on the familiar tales. Stellar depictions of Rumplestiltskin and The Frog Prince richly enhance the text. Some poems are thoughtful and others merely silly but the illustrations are consistently eye-catching. The concept is fresh, and most of the poems are enjoyable if a few feel more contrived than creative. Still, this unique offering will find a home in language-arts classes, and the art begs to be shared one-on-one.—Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH
An introductory authors' note describes this book's concept: each of fifteen well-known fairy tales is distilled into two short poems, one written by Yolen, the other by Dotlich. (Oddly, who wrote what is only mentioned on the copyright page.) The perspectives are mostly different, and are often those of characters -- or inanimate objects such as the princess's pea -- not usually heard from in the traditional tales. In the kick-off poem, the wicked fairy from "Sleeping Beauty" first laments, then shrugs off, being outsmarted ("I blame myself. / This didn't go well"). Many of the subsequent pieces also incorporate humor, but, just as in fairy tales themselves, there's no lack of darkness -- menace, longing, envy, violence -- throughout the book. Mahurin's varied, painterly illustrations echo each piece's tone; by playing up characters' facial expressions and posture, along with shadows or light and angles sharp or soft, the pictures help reinforce meaning of the occasionally oblique writing. Two appended pages provide short summaries of the traditional stories along with brief information about origins and variants; three websites are also included for further reference. elissa gershowitz

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