Posts Tagged ‘Reading to Know Classics Bookclub’

The Brothers Grimm: Wrap Up

December 2nd, 2015

I had grandiose plans of reading ALL of the Grimm’s fairy tales, but I’m awfully glad that I gave myself the out from the beginning. As it was, I read 22 of the tales and 14 picture book versions, listened to 1 audio retelling, and watched 2 video retellings. I posted reviews of the retellings – and have a half dozen half-written posts about the other tales I read.

I’ll post those someday – but for now, I’ll just list what I read:

Hansel and Gretel

I read and reviewed eight different picture book versions of this very famous tale.

Rumpelstiltskin

I read and reviewed four different picture book versions and a video retelling of this familiar tale.

King Thrushbeard

I found only one picture book version of this fun Taming-of-the-Shrew-esque story. I’d like to see more.

The Frog Prince

No kissing! Yay! I read one picture book version, listened to an audio version, and watched a video retelling (that I didn’t like at all.)

Stories published elsewhere

So, those Disney stories I watched/read as a child? I think most of them are probably drawn more from Perrault’s French version of the stories. But I did read the Grimm’s versions of “Puss in Boots” and “Cinderella”.

Less-Familiar Princesses

“Maid Maleen”: a Sleeping-Beauty-like tale, except with more twists. “The Skillful Huntsman”: a modest man slays figurative dragons (actually giants and maybe a pig?) and wins the princess’s hand. “The Princess in Disguise”: a Cinderella-like tale, except with more twists (including a really yucky incestuous promise.)

Tailor Tales

I read two different tales about tailors (generally clever but rather self-important men). “The Gallant Tailor” aka “The Brave Little Tailor” aka “The Valiant Tailor” aka “Seven at One Blow” is the one I remember from childhood. But there is also “The Giant and the Tailor”.

Stories with Adult Themes

Infidelity and wife-beating. Not exactly great material for children’s stories. Preview these before you share them with your kids: “The Little Farmer”, “Sharing Joy and Sorrow”, and “Old Hildebrand”.

Gruesome Tales

You’ve been warned that the Grimm’s are GRIM and are eager to mine the depths of their gruesomeness? Try “Fitcher’s Bird” and “The Robber Bridegroom”.

Create-your-own Fairy Tales

A few of the tales seemed incomplete, like they’re just waiting to be made into an episode in a Shrek-like fairy tale amalgam. Wanna try your hand at it? Read “The Golden Key”, “Sweet Porridge”, and “The Old Beggar Woman”.

Thumbling Tales

Actually three different tales: “Tom Thumb”, “Tom Thumb’s Travels”, and “The Young Giant”.

Miscellaneous Tales

“The Nail”, a moral tale. “Jew among Thorns”, an anti-Semitic tale (uncomfortable). “Clever Gretel”, with a not-so-nice protagonist. “The Singing Bone”, a Cain and Abel type tale. “Fair Katrinelje and Pif-Paf-Poltrie”, an incomprehensible courting story. “The Elves”, a Christmas story. “The Goose-Girl”, a rather goosey all-too-compliant gal who gets the guy in the end anyway.

Thanks to everyone for reading along – don’t forget to go to Reading to Know to link up what you read and to read others’ thoughts on The Brothers Grimm.

The Brothers Grimm: The Frog Prince

November 12th, 2015

I much prefer the Grimms version of “The Frog Prince” to whatever detestable variation resulted in the saying “You have to kiss a few toads before you find your prince.”

This story is (thankfully) not about playing the field, but about keeping promises.

No kissing involved.

The Frog Prince retold by Edith H. Tarcov, illustrated by James Marshall
A relatively faithful retelling of the story, written as a “level three” first reader (for 1st and 2nd grades). The large print and relatively simple sentence structures make it easier for children to read – but this still includes an abundance of words and parts of speech. I enjoyed the little rhymes the frog says. I did NOT enjoy James Marshall’s illustrations, which were cartoonish (all the people reminded me of Alice from Dilbert.)

The Frog Prince by Jan Callner (Audio)
An audio retelling of the classic tale, with a full cast of characters and accompanying songs. There are some embellishments to the story, but most of them are positive developments (showing the princess’s evolution from self-centered brat to friend, for example). Also, there were a few amusing bits – after the fairy godmother exclaims her displeasure at not being invited to the Prince’s party, the narrator asks “Do you know what she did?” and answers “She destabilized the entire geopolitical balance of the region – that is, she turned the prince into a frog”. On the other hand, the songs drove me absolutely NUTS – or at least they would if I had to listen to them more than once. Overall, I won’t be listening again.

The Tale of the Frog Prince from Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre (DVD)
Having been rather disappointed in Shelley Duvall’s version of “Rumplestiltskin”, I was prepared for her “The Tale of the Frog Prince” to be less than stellar. Except that I couldn’t help notice that these were different actors – Robin Williams is the frog, and the back of the DVD case has accolades from the New York Times. I let my hopes rise.

The opening scene, where a narrator introduces the plight of a poor king and queen who couldn’t have a child, raised my hopes further – only to let them be immediately dashed when said king and queen begin harranguing one another.

From there? Well, lots of angry yelling, lots of name-calling, lots of innuendo. Yep, that’s right – all sorts of innuendo.

And a kiss. Of course, a kiss.

I wasn’t a fan. Obviously.

The Brothers Grimm: King Thrushbeard

November 10th, 2015

An unfamiliar tale, “King Thrushbeard” tells the story of a beautiful princess who is less than beautiful inside. She has many suitors, all of whom she turns away with mocking. One such is a king with an pointy jaw, whom the princess mocks as “King Thrushbeard”. In his anger at his daughter’s refusing all her suitors, the princess’s father vows to give her in marriage to the next beggar that comes knocking at the castle door.

And so he does.

This particular story reminds me a lot of “The Taming of the Shrew” – in which a proud and sarcastic woman is tamed by an uncouth husband (although with a bit less spousal abuse!). I would love to see this story retold more frequently.

King Thrushbeard illustrated by Felix Hoffman

This is the only retelling my library had of this tale – and it’s a quite faithful retelling. The illustrations are nice but not amazing – the people are quite angular and their garments are an odd mix of Renaissance-style tunics and jerkins and 1920’s cut flapper dresses. It’s really quite odd. However, since I like this tale so much, I think it’s worth tracking down a copy (even if the illustrations are odd).

The Brothers Grimm: Hansel and Gretel

November 5th, 2015

The tale of Hansel and Gretel is one of the more familiar of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Prior to actually reading the tale, I knew that the children were left in the woods, couldn’t follow their trail of breadcrumbs home, discovered a gingerbread house occupied by a witch who intended to eat them, and ended up locking the witch in her own oven.

What I didn’t know was the level of detail found in the original story (or stories). The children were left in the woods at the urging of their mother (stepmother?) who feared there wasn’t enough for the whole family to eat. The children found their way home by way of dropped moonstones. The first time they were left in the woods, Hansel tricked the witch into thinking he wasn’t gaining weight by giving her the same old animal bone to feel when she came to check his finger for fatness. After they were free of the witch, the children were carried across a pond by a kind duck (what?) They arrived home at last to find their mother (stepmother?) dead.

It was fun to see how different translators and retellers tell this story, and how different illustrators illustrate it. It is certainly a dark tale – but each version has its bright moments.

Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Sybille Schenker, text edited by Martin West

Visually, this book is gorgeous. You can recognize it by its black cover sewn together with orange thread. The illustrations are typically black and white with stark contrasts – but with great depth thanks to a multitude of vellum overlays layering page upon page upon page. The illustrations are beautiful, but creepy. The text is fairly detailed, but translational choices emphasized the relationship between brother and sister – and decreased the forboding nature of their abandonment by having the stepmother (as opposed to the mother) doing the convincing and then the actual abandoning (the father is apparently there, but it is stepmom who marches the children into the woods and tells them that their father and she will return for them – which, of course, doesn’t happen.)

Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, retold by Rika Lesser
This book received the Caldecott Honor in 1985 (it’s as old as me!) for Zelinsky’s beautiful illustrations. I wish I knew enough about art history to be able to place them in some artistic school – but I’ve seen paintings in this style in museums. They are perfectly suited to the tale and to the historical setting of the tale. The story is told well, with lots of dialogue between characters. Interestingly, about half of the book addresses the period before the children found the gingerbread house.

Hansel and Gretel retold by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti
A relatively wordy version for slightly older children, this retelling increases the spook factor rather than playing it down. Trees claw at the children in a forboding manner; the old woman (never named as a witch) tells the children that she hopes their arrival heralds the coming of meat to her kitchen again. The additions to the story fleshed it out but didn’t feel contrived or moralistic like some of the other versions (that I didn’t like so much.) Mattotti’s illustrations are stark, black and white with lots of tangled branches and the occasional eye poking out. The people are the clearest of all the forms, but even they are merely black outlines against a white splash of light. The illustrations and story alternate with each double page spread, making this a better choice for reading to oneself than for reading aloud (since you can’t look at the pictures while someone else is reading.)

The Cookie House by Margaret Hillert, illustrated by Kinuko Craft
This is unique among the retellings because it is a first reader, with just 59 words. The text primarily consists of Hansel and Gretel’s thoughts as the events of the tale occur: “Mother is not here. Father is not here. I do not like this.” This leaves the illustrations to tell the story – which they do quite well. As with all first readers, this is a book best read by a child (since it doesn’t have the rich text that makes parental read-alouds so beneficial) – but it really is a nice version of the Grimms’ story. I can certainly see a child reading it to her parent and then having dialogue about what was happening in the pictures (to flesh out the story).

Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Susan Jeffers, retold by Amy Ehrlich
A straightforward retelling of the story – with one new-to-me detail: a white bird led the children to the witch’s gingerbread cottage. The stepmother is often referred to as “the woman”, helping to make the betrayal a little less personal. Illustrator Susan Jeffers has two different illustration styles (it seems to me). The woodland pictures are in great detail, with individual leaves on the trees and lots of lovely wildlife. The indoor pictures and those prominently featuring people seem to be almost in the style of American Country Crafts (you know, the kind from the ’80s and ’90s, round faced dolls with peat moss hair and painted on cheek circles?) This wasn’t a bad picture book, but it’s not my favorite either.

Nibble, Nibble Mousekin retold and illustrated by John Walsh Anglund
A quite wordy version with lots of text on each page and a fair bit of extraneous description. This one has Hansel fill his pockets with stones on the mere suspicion of his stepmother’s wickedness, without having overheard her plan (in fact, she never shares the plan with the father – thereby freeing him from the guilt of weakness.) Furthermore, the stepmother runs away rather than dies, leaving the children and their father to enjoy each other in the end. The illustrations alternated between color and black and white on every other two-page spread. The children remind me of Precious Moments dolls – but the rest of the illustration is different enough that it’s only a passing reminder. I generally prefer the more faithful retellings found above.

Hansel and Gretel retold and illustrated by James Marshall

The retelling was neither bad nor spectacular – but the cartoon-like illustrations didn’t really suit my fancy. My library also had a video version of this, in which the illustrations are lightly animated (the stepmother is always munching something). While the generally very story-book like manner was appealing (that is, a narrator read the story while each page was shown on screen versus the flash-from-one-scene-to-another-very-quickly nature of typical cartoons), I still wasn’t impressed with the storytelling or the illustrations.

Hansel and Gretel retold by Cynthia Rylant, pictures by Jen Corace
Generally speaking, the retellings of “Hansel and Gretel” have been faithful to the extent that my commentary has focused on omissions or on illustrations. This retelling is an exception, for while the illustrations are interesting, what stands out is what Rylant has chosen to ADD to the story – explanations. She explains the stepmother’s selfishness, explains the father’s weakness, and explains the moral she wants children to derive from the story.

“It has been said that guardian spirits watch over and protect small children, and that may be so. But there are also stories of children who find the courage to protect themselves.”

“Perhaps this is when guardian spirits finally intervene, when small children have already been so brave.”

I would much prefer that retellers keep to the story and let parents and children talk about what the story means. In this case, I am all for children being brave – but I want my children to know the bravery that comes from complete reliance on the Holy Spirit, who intervenes when we can do nothing, granting us supernaturally a spirit of “power and of love and of a sound mind”.

So this is one retelling I don’t recommend.

The Brothers Grimm: Introduction

November 3rd, 2015

I have long loved fairy tales as I knew them – generally from popular saccharine representations in children’s picture books and (of course) Disney movies. Later on, I came to love young adult fairy tale novelizations such as those by Jessica Day George and Robin McKinley. But, apart from my childhood reading and re-reading of Anderson’s Fairy Tales, I haven’t read many original fairy tales.

Since I am familiar with Hans Christian Anderson’s original tales, I’ve selected a less familiar collection of originals for this month’s Reading to Know Book ClubGrimms’ Fairy Tales (link to Wikipedia).

Grimms’ Fairy Tales include 200 separate tales – familiar tales such as Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood, but also much less familiar ones. Since the volumes are rather large, I don’t expect that many of us will read them in their entirety (I’m going to try but to give myself plenty of grace if I don’t end up doing so!). So this challenge will be to read one or more of the Grimm brothers’ original fairy tales and to write about them so we all can learn a bit more about the tales behind the children’s storybook versions.

As I mentioned on my nightstand post, I’m planning on reading:

  • Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales 1993 edition published by Barnes and Noble Books
  • As many picture book versions of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales as my library owns
  • Whatever else strikes my fancy related to the Brothers Grimm (Tirzah Mae and I have been enjoying listening to a recording of Hansel Humperdink’s Hansel und Gretel, a German opera based on the Grimm fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel”)

I’ve already started reading a number of different picture book versions and will have frequent updates throughout the month on the best (and worst) versions I’ve seen – and commentary on the stories.

Anybody wanna read along with us?

The Prairie, Revisited

March 4th, 2014

Someday, I’m going to be a pioneer. I’ll travel in a covered wagon, settle on an empty prairie, build a log cabin with timber cut from the creek bed. I’ll cut notches in the logs and carefully set notch upon notch, climbing the corners of the cabin to build it higher and higher.

It’s been a dream of mine since my earliest days, those days when I first read Little House on the Prairie.

But while I’ve been able to accomplish some of the childhood dreams elicited by books, I have not accomplished this particular one-and likely never will.

The closest I’ll get will be building Lincoln log houses with children.

And that’s okay.

I was struck, rereading Little House on the Prairie for the first time in several years, with how much of the book is focused on the mechanics of building a home from scratch–but also much I missed of the rest of the book.

I never caught, on my early readings, just how tenuous the Ingalls’ resettlement was. Pa heard a rumor that Indian territory would be opening for settlement, so he uprooted his family and moved in. Despite there being plenty of non-Indian land around, Pa settled within an Indian reservation–knowing that it was an Indian reservation. He considered it to be just a matter of time before the Indians would be resettled. That’s what happens when white men move forward, he assumed; the Indians move on to make place for them. And of course the US government would back up the white settlers who were squatting on Indian land. Of course.

It’s astonishing to think. How can someone (who isn’t desperate) know that the land they’re living on belongs to someone else but yet still choose to build upon it in hopes that they’ll come out on top in the end?

In some ways, Pa seems so advanced in his views of Indians. He didn’t hate them or fear them, he tended towards the “noble savage” viewpoint (which I definitely had as a child, at least in part obtained from the Little House books). Yet his attitude in settlement was almost like many would treat wild animals. Yes, suburban sprawl will impact the native animal population, but people are more important than animals and the animals will move to other places and adapt.

It’s challenging, revisiting the prairie through these new eyes.

My view of Little House on the Prairie has also changed now that I am married and have moved from being near my family to be with my husband. In the months leading up to our marriage, Daniel and I talked of various directions our life could take-of different educational and professional routes Daniel could take, of different places we might end up living. I blithely told Daniel that I would follow him anywhere.

And it’s true. I will follow him anywhere.

But, having moved once to follow him, my determination to follow him anywhere has much more fear attached.

The move to Wichita has not been easy for me. I battled a depression over this past year that was more severe than any I have battled before. I am now finally, one year out, starting to find my balance. The thought of uprooting again terrifies me.

I can’t help but think of Caroline Ingalls as I read Little House on the Prairie. I imagine how hard it must have been for her, leaving her family and “civilization”, spending months without anyone to talk to but her husband and their children, just starting to establish a home when news comes that you must move again.

I wonder if she felt more sorrow or more relief when it became clear that they must not stay, that they would need to backtrack, that they would return to Wisconsin. Was she sorrowful because of the year lost, the work done and left for others to enjoy? Or was she elated to be returning back to her family, to the little house they once loved? And what was she thinking when Pa’s wanderlust struck again later (when they left for the banks of Plum Creek)?

It’s interesting, revisiting old places and seeing them through older, more mature eyes.

I wondered at the beginning of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge if I wouldn’t try to make something from Little House on the Prairie, like I did with Little House in the Big Woods a couple years ago. I didn’t. The closest I got was creating some log cabin quilt blocks for a quilt for a soon expected nephew and building log cabins with Lincoln logs with the kids of some friends from church.

I don’t regret that I didn’t do more–this year’s challenge was thought provoking enough that I didn’t need the extra activities.

I read this title as a part of Barbara H’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge and the Reading to Know Classics Book Club. You can check out what other people have been reading at Barbara’s challenge wrap up post and the RTK wrap-up post.

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