Yesterday I was noting my enjoyment of well designed and written children’s/young adult books. With the success of Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket this genre has really taken off. As with most publishing phenomena, however, there is a wide range of quality involved. I recently started reading a series that is at the high end of the quality spectrum: The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley.
I noticed the series some time ago while wandering the children’s section with my wife and daughter, but I put off buying them. (I often feel a little sheepish about buying and reading children’s/young adult books. I feel like the kid who always chose the smallest possible books for reports in school. I rationalize it by giving them to my friend’s kids or telling myself my daughter can read them when she gets older. This is all rather silly. The fact is, I find these books, and the whole genre, enjoyable and interesting. Plus, it is a service to my readers, right?) Anyway, when I came upon a discounted copy recently, I went ahead and bought the first book in the series: The Fairy-Tale Detectives. I am glad I did as it turned out to be a highly enjoyable and imaginative story with a great sense of humor.
As noted in the title, the story centers around sisters Daphne and Sabrina Grimm. When their parents disappear in mysterious fashion the two are sent to an orphanage and then to a variety of bad foster homes. Given their experience, the sisters are confused and cynical when they are told that their grandmother has called to claim them. Their father had always said that their grandparents were dead.
Upon meeting Relda Grimm, the older and more suspicious Sabrina is convinced they have been left in the care of the mentally unstable. Granny Relda lives in a large strange house where the front door has half-a-dozen locks, the windows are nailed shut, weird books are strewn all over the house, and her cooking consists of green meatballs and purple pasta. Sabrina is soon plotting their escape.
This first attempt to leave doesn’t turn out well, however, and then Granny Relda agrees to explain their strange surroundings. Sabrina and Daphne are the descendants of the famous Brothers Grimm. But the tales the brothers collected are not fairy tale myths but real events. Ferryport Landing is a magical town and home to the surviving fairy tale creatures known as “Everafters.” The brothers worked with a witch to trap all the Everafters in Ferryport. The catch is that the spell only works as long as there is a Grimm in Ferryport.
The Grimms down through the ages, including the sister’s father, have thus continued the brother’s work in keeping the history of the Everafters and in helping to solve any mysteries related to the unique arrangement in Ferryport. The sisters father eventually chose to escape this bizarre town and life by moving to New York City and denying it existed. But when their grandmother gets grabbed by a giant, the sisters have little choice but to take up the detective mantle and try and rescue her.
As you can see from this introduction, The Fairy-Tale Detectives is a creative twist on the idea of fairy tales. Buckley uses this imaginative world as a backdrop for a wild adventure full of giants, pixies, and a host of other fairy tale creatures from Prince Charming, Snow White, and the Three Little Pigs to Jack and the Beanstalk, Puck, and the Magic Mirror. Full of good natured satire and quick wit, the book was really a joy to read.
Buckley keeps the plot moving but also creates a number of good characters with developed personalities. Sabrina is the good kid who was forced to grow up too fast and as a result is perhaps a bit to bossy to her sister and a little to cynical about life. Daphne is the younger sister who always looks for the good in people and enjoys whatever fun comes her way. Relda is the sweet grandma who is tougher than she looks and who knows more than she lets on.
All of the characters interact in ways that are believable and quite funny at the same time. And while the plot is mostly straightforward, there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. And of course it is fun to meet each new Everafter and their role in Ferryport (the Three Pigs as police officers, Snow White as a teacher, etc.). Buckley does a great job of bringing the voices and personalities of these legendary characters, from all across the fairytale spectrum, to life. To add the value, the books are beautifully packaged hardbacks with great illustrations by Peter Ferguson.
All in all, I have to say that the Sisters Grimn is a perfect example of the promise of this genre. Fun, imaginative, and intelligent adventures in an attractive package. What’s not to like? If you enjoy creative children’s adventure stories or have a child or friend who is looking for something new to read I highly recommend this series. I for one plan to read them all.