Appetizer: Here's the opening for this collection of poems and fairy tale modernizations:
"Do you want to sleep? Find another storyteller. Do you want to think about the world in a new way?
Come closer. Closer, please.
I want to whisper in your ear."
Aside from reminding me of the beginning of The Tale of Despereaux, these poems and vignettes
do reveal new perspectives. Many include feminist themes, modern settings, a deeper look at a specific character or twists. The ugly duckling becomes a bullied youth. The beast misses having fangs. Since the stories are based on the traditional versions (the Grimm brothers, Perrault, etc.) it is important to be familiar with the original fairy tales (which, sadly, I was not always).
Near the end, there's a character who uses the word "gay" in a derogatory way (p. 75). There's also another story that notes gay marriage as being a step toward the apocalypse (p. 63). Although these phrases are in line with the characters' voices, I would have preferred they weren't included at all. This lost the book points with me.
My one other caution about the book would be in regards to age appropriateness. Since it's so short, illustrated and dealing with fairy tales, it's possible to assume the poems are for younger kids, but due to some swearing and references to sex, a teacher may have to be cautious before using some of the poems in a class room.
Koertge wasn't willing to shy away from controversial topics and language with this piece.
A teacher can still select among the poems to model for students how to adapt a traditional fairy tale to modern social mores. Some poems I would consider using include "The Stepsisters," "Memoirs of the Beast," and "Wolf."
At Cynsations you can also find an interview with Koertge and a giveaway of Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses.
The Little Match Girl:
"She's selling CDs on the corner,
fifty cents to any stoner,
any homeboy with a boner.
Sleet and worse--the weather's awful.
Will she live? It's very doubtful.
Life out here is never healthful." (p. 15)
"The soldier had seen the devil in the desert.
And he'd seen the devil's toys--IEDs,
VBIEDs, the maniacs with dynamite
strapped to their chests.
So he was surprised when the devil came
right up to him in the VA hospital room and said,
'So here's the deal. If you can wear a bearskin
for seven years, you'll stop having bad dreams.
And I'll make you rich. But if you ever
take the bearskin off, I get your soul.'" (p. 19)
Twelve Dancing Princesses:
"When he tells the king, the full force
of twelve baleful glances stuns him
even as he ponders his reward:
choose any daughter.
Now they're really mad. They're not doughnuts
in a box, oranges in a sack, pennies in a dish.
They're a force to be reckoned with." (p. 25)
Memoirs of the Beast:
"We're happy now. We're very,
very happy. But I have to admit
there's not much to do in Ever After.
It's always sunny and 78*. Every
night the fireworks light themselves.
With a sigh, sometimes, I brush
my perfect teeth and remember when
they were fangs." (p. 29)
Tasty Rating: !!.