I’ve been teaching a Cinderella unit for decades now and always begin by having the class tell the version they already know, each child adding a sentence as we go around the circle. This telling is always dominated by the Disney/Perrault version, but sometimes as we get toward the end there will be someone who will, with great relish, tell of the stepmother’s bloody efforts to make her daughters’ feet fit the slipper. More occasionally someone else will know of those girls’ dreadful final punishment (involving birds and eyes in case you didn’t know). And, of course, the rest are completely captivated. Always, always, always they want to know that story.
And so this year, knowing of their fascination with this lesser-known side of fairy tales, not only will they get to know that story, but an arguably even darker one — Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm. As we explore the ins and outs of Cinderella, fairy tales, and what they are today I will be reading aloud this remarkable debut novel in which traditional Grimm tales are woven in and among new tales. Then, as always, the children will write their own stories. And as they do, it will be interesting to see how and if this novel affects their writing. Will they be inspired to try a storyteller narrator perhaps? A narrator that feels just like a kind teacher, someone who knows that this is a dark story with scary elements, one who warns and explains just as I would reading the story aloud, but won’t need to with this book because the narrator will be doing it for me? Maybe or maybe not.
And how about heroes? Perhaps they will want to try for two protagonists as in this story, the brave Hansel and Gretel on a quest for the ultimate wish fulfillment — perfect parents. As for parents, I wonder how the ones in this story will color those in my students’. Say the king and queen who give birth to Hansel and Gretel and then do some pretty dreadful things. Or the mother with a taste for child flesh. Whew. Perhaps it will be the hapless father who carelessly wishes his seven sons away who takes their fancy. Or not. I do suspect that their stories may end up a tad more violent than usual given that Gidwitz’s is a lot more violent than the sanitized fairy tales they are most familiar with. Whether or not any of this shows up in their stories, I’m absolutely certain that they will be on the edges of their seats listening to me read every bit of it.
A few weeks ago at his publisher’s fall preview I listened to Adam Gidwitz speak about fairy tales, tears, and blood. Lush, provocative, moving, funny, painful, and transcendent, A Tale Dark and Grimm is definitely one to watch out for this fall.