Fairy Tales Transformed

The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan; Arthur A. Levine, $24.00, 192 pages, ages  14 and up. 

Australian artist Shaun Tan has made his name creating surreal, slightly peculiar works of art with the ultimate goal of encouraging dialogue and social engagement–Tan worked on the science-fiction animated film WALL-E, for example–and in The Singing Bones he tackles the Grimm brothers’ literary canon with similar verve. Seventy-five pieces of original art are accompanied by a portion of text from obscure and beloved tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Inspired by Inuit and pre-Columbian stone carvings, Tan’s compositions are molded of earthy, unpretentious materials–papier-mâché and air-drying clay adorned with acrylic paint and shoe polish–resulting in art that looks like it has weathered the passage of time.

Many of the selections may not be well known to contemporary readers, at least not in the forms referenced here: in “Mother Trudy” an overly inquisitive young girl is turned into a block of wood and cast upon the hearth by a witch, and Tan’s sculpture depicts a demonic-looking old creature nestled comfortably in front of a recently lit blaze. A wicked stepmother decapitates her stepson in “The Juniper Tree” and the attending artwork is a disturbingly complex rendering of multiple moments that unfold in the narrative. Snow White and her long-forgotten sister Red Rose gleefully traipse on a magical bear in another excerpt. Though summarized in an annotated index, only the basic sketch of each story is provided, encouraging readers to explore the fairy tales separately.

Reigning master of macabre Neil Gaiman and renowned fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes  provide thoughtful introductions and commentary on the enduring importance of the Grimm fairy tales for our generation.

The Singing Bones is a powerful examination of the range of human emotion, and how much greater that range can be for children, if adults will allow it. 31-juniper-tree9780545946124_interior-101

Twelve Dancing Unicorns, by Alissa Heyman, illustrated by Justin Gerard; Sterling Children’s Books, $14.95, 32 pages, ages 5-8. (September 2014)

Since its initial publication in 1812, The Grimm brothers’ classic fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, has inspired movies, musicals, as well as adaptations and numerous retellings. In Alissa Heyman’s debut picture book the dozen princesses are now glittering unicorns who manage to break free of their golden chains every night.  The king offers a reward to the person capable of solving his pets’ mysterious nocturnal ramblings, and a plucky young villager takes up the challenge.  Young readers familiar with the original will quickly pick up on the similarities, while children new to the tale will enjoy it just the same. Veteran illustrator (DreamWorks, Disney) Justin Gerard’s paintings set an enchanted mood – fairies and flowers appear illuminated from within, while the unicorns gallop right out of this glowing fantasy world.  Tones of purple, blue and radiant gold are a perfect accompaniment to this magical tale. 

Follow the Twelve Dancing Unicorns blog tour tomorrow on My Friend Amy: http://www.myfriendamysblog.com/2008/07/about-me.html.