Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Under The Spell

What compels people to read fairy tales?  What brings us back to them again and again?  What makes us search out new variations?

 In response to a question Albert Einstein stated If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.  C. S. Lewis thought sometimes fairy stories say best what needs to be said. One of my favorite phrases, attributed to G. K. Chesterton, though is Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.

No matter the age of the reader or listener, fairy tales fulfill a need deep within for the connection provided by storytelling with beginnings in the oral tradition.  They provide potent possibilities for digging deeper into the personalities of the characters, changing point of view, and expanding or altering the narrative itself.  Authors Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich explore these ideas in Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist (WordSong, an imprint of Highlights, March 1, 2013) with artwork by Matt Mahurin.

Once, oh once, there was, was not,
A girl, princess, mermaid, widow, witch, queen, wife,
A boy, king, soldier, wizard, troll, giant,
      Life. ...

With those compelling words Jane Yolen casts a net of magic over readers bringing them into a collection of poetry.  Fifteen fairy tales, two poems for each, one written by Yolen, the other by Dotlich.

A disgruntled fairy bemoans a single kiss as a voice demands the princess to snap out of it and take control, even as they are snacking on sweet treats, Gretel and Hansel know fear and false bravado, and with love strong for the Beast and the boy, musings made in the future wonder about the joys of parenthood.  Would the Gingerbread Boy have left knowing how heartbroken his makers would be?  Not surprisingly, glass slippers are not all they're cracked up to be.

Frazzled by his position the pea speaks out after years of silence.  It's a good thing sticks and stones break bones and not names because the Princess is not kind to the Frog.  It's about time Goldilocks writes an apology letter but she still is clueless about the real homeowners. On the closing page, the net still surrounding us, we read in part, Rebecca Kai Dotlich's advice, her wish,

Happily Ever After
Imagine them all
after the plotting, after the ball,
after the spelling, hopping, sweeping,
grumping, grousing, mopping, sleeping,
from small glass shoe to nuisance pea, 
so ever after, all happily be--- ...

Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich using words like pixie dust weave spells over readers stretching our thinking about what we believe we know about these fifteen fairy tales.  A poetic variety, free verse, couplets, cinquain, and haiku, brings us into the rhythm of the realm with and without rhyme.  As individual as the writers themselves, the poems still maintain the essence of each story plus a little more.

A golden doorway beckons readers through the darkened forest, as hints of tales told are tucked among the trees or scattered along the path on the jacket and cover; a frightened Frog Prince thrown and flying is pictured on the back.  Paintings by Matt Mahurin each covering a full two pages add dimension to the poems with shifting shades, light, then dark, then back again to light, mirroring the mood of all.  Altering perspective adds an extra effect to the illustrations; a wintry landscape with roses blooming, Beast embracing Beauty, the side of a face, mouth gaping, Gingerbread Boy balanced precariously on the teeth or the Woodsman's axe prying open the huge wolf's jaws as Red Riding Hood reaches in for her Grandmother.

Details further define the views of the voices; a broken bed, the two pieces on opposite pages of Sleeping Beauty's tale, the sly, grotesque features on the Witch's face as she stirs the pot in contrast to the innocent wholesomeness of Hansel and Gretel as they reach for the candies and one of the Bear's lifting a sleeping mask from Goldilocks face revealing an open eye.  The layout, placement of the poems, does not distract, being framed by the visuals inviting, always inviting, the reader.  One of my favorites is for Rumpelstiltskin.  A darkened background highlights his cunning face and upper body as straw from his outstretched left hand arcs over his head changing to gold coins piling into his right hand.  Directly above his head and the arc is a sleeping infant.

Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist written by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich with illustrations by Matt Mahurin not only opens new doors into familiar stories but challenges readers to always look beyond the known. As an introduction to fairy tales or a reminder of the opportunities they present, this collection of poems is a welcome chorus.  Having read these over and over, silently and aloud, their magic is of the kind that lingers.

Between the last set of poems and concluding poem, two pages list the fifteen fairy tales adding a few sentences about their origin and basic storyline along with several websites with more information.  As part of the title verso which poems written by each author are designated. Please follow the links to the websites for the authors and illustrator embedded in their names above.  

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