Just in Time for All Hallow’s Eve, A Q & A with Adam Gidwitz about Grimm, Grimmer, and Grimmest, a Delightfully Not-Too-Macabre Podcast

Adam Gidwitz, author of the wonderful A Tale Dark and Grimm series recently dropped a totally fantastic podcast series, Grimm, Grimmer, and Grimmest. Adam had told me it was in the works ages ago so I was excited to listen to it and was not disappointed. I’ve watched Adam tell stories to kids for ages and he is truly wonderful. And so is this podcast series as they’ve done a terrific job giving that same experience to listeners. The production is outstanding, heightening Adam’s unique and witty storytelling talent. I can’t recommend it enough anytime, not just today. In fact, last week I was on a field trip with my class of 4th graders and, on impulse, brought along a Bluetooth speaker and played three of the stories on the bus ride. The kids were completely absorbed. And right now, as I write, I’ve got three who couldn’t go to PE because of various ailments and they are listening (and giggling and participating) with pleasure. So, yes, I can’t recommend them enough!

To celebrate I invited Adam to answer a few questions about the podcast.

Let’s start by you giving us a bit of background as to why this sort of podcast exactly. What is it about the Grimm stories, the oral tradition, and the translating of that into a medium of today that speaks to you? 

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm wrote their stories down starting in 1810, drawing principally on stories that were part of the oral tradition in Germany at that time. Many of these were stories that were told around the hearth at night. Which meant that they weren’t just for kids. They were for everyone. Yes, the kids had to like the stories. But so did Mom, and Dad, and Grandma, and Crazy Uncle Friedrich. In a time with no electronic entertainment, no film, no radio—this was one of the prime modes of family entertainment. What’s exciting to me about podcasts is that they lend themselves to the same kind of family entertainment. Instead of turning on a TV and not looking at one another for three hours, I am imagining families making a fire in the fireplace, or everyone curling up in the big bed, and listening to an episode of Grimmest together. Or just laughing together on the drive to and from school. That works, too.

Where did the podcast idea come from and how did you work with Pinna to make it a reality?

I’ve been telling Grimm fairy tales to kids for about a decade now. The idea for my first book, A Tale Dark and Grimm, came from an experience of telling a truly grim Grimm tale to a classroom of second graders. One of them asked me to make it into a book, and I did. Since then, whenever I visit a school, a library, or a book festival, I am often telling real, grim Grimm tales to the kids. My favorite part of which is hearing them laugh and scream and make unexpectedly zany comments. I had been wishing that there was a way to share these experiences with more people. There was something so magical about telling these old tales live, and getting the reactions I was… So when Pinna came to me last year and said, “We’re looking for authors to create audio shows for kids; do you have any ideas?” I said, “YES!” 

So the podcast sounds like me going into a classroom of kids, and beginning to tell a story. But then we zoom off, aurally, to the Kingdom of Grimm, where actors and sound effects and atmospheric music help me tell the tale. But we keep jumping back into our world as I ask the kids questions, or they laugh, or they heckle me (yeah, they heckle me). All of that is unscripted and, in my opinion, the best part of the show. Though the stories are pretty good, too. 

How are you choosing the tales to tell? I mean, there are so many!

Right! Well, when I wrote my books A Tale Dark and Grimm, In a Glass Grimmly, and The Grimm Conclusion, I went through my big book of Grimm’s tales and chose some of my favorites. But they had to fit together somehow. And there were many that I loved but that I had not fit into the books. So I went back through the books and chose twenty of my favorite Grimm tales—ten for season one and ten for season two. I then did some rewriting. Not to fracture the tales: I’m honestly not a big fan of fractured fairy tales—I like the real ones. I just like them retold for modern kids. That doesn’t mean changing the setting or softening them at all. It means making the jokes work today (because humor, of any kind, doesn’t tend to age well), and ensuring that modern kids can care about the main characters, and get invested—which makes the modern kids more scared when something terrifying happens. 

How did you schools and kids participate? Did you do the sessions over and over or once and then just edited them? They sound incredibly immediate, just like the ones I’ve seen you do with our students over the years. 

Thank you! So, I would rewrite the tale, as I said above, and then I’d read it to the kids. They’d only get to hear it once, though we had two schools, and at one school there were two groups, so there were a few stories I was able to read three times. But always to different kids—so the kids’ reactions are indeed immediate and unscripted and absolutely genuine. I didn’t even ASK them to comment. But once they knew they could, comments just burst forth. And we captured them on the mics. The first time that happened, it was a magical moment. I was reading them my retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, and I think I made them laugh, and there was this beautiful giggle. And I remember looking at a microphone and thinking, “We got that. We captured that. Everyone is going to get to hear what kids sound like when they really love one of these fairy tales.” It was one of the happiest moments of my year. 

What else would you like to tell us about the podcast, series, and anything else?

Only that everyone can hear all of Season 1 now, for FREE, on Apple Podcasts! We don’t know if they’ll be on there for free forever, so go listen right now! Just search Grimmest on Apple Podcasts and it comes right up! And I really recommend listening all the way through Episode 10. I think you’ll know why when you do… 

Indeed…thank you, Adam. Now, everyone, go and listen. You can thank me later. 

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