“A Tale Dark & Grimm,” by Adam Gidwitz, is something else entirely. In fact, it’s unlike any children’s book I’ve ever read. If “Reckless” is an old-school fairy tale fantasy, and “The Grimm Legacy” is a modern one, “A Tale Dark & Grimm” is a completely postmodern creation. It plunks Hansel and Gretel into a succession of other, lesser-known Grimm tales — “Faithful Johannes,” “The Three Golden Hairs,” “Brother and Sister” and more — but creates a narrative through-line that wends through all the tales like a trail of bread crumbs. Parents do horrible things; they fail their children, and they kill them. But Hansel and Gretel become true heroes — they go on a quest; they save others; they come home; they learn to understand their parents’ burdens and failings. Heavy. And yet “A Tale Dark & Grimm” is really, really funny. The first line is “Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.”
The tone ricochets between lyrical and goofy. There’s an intrusive, Snicket-y narrator who warns the reader every time gore is imminent, apologizing, urging the reader to hustle the little kids out of the room. And it all works. As the story progresses, it gets less and less faithful to the source material and becomes its own increasingly rich and strange thing. A Child’s Garden of Metafiction! It reminds me of Eudora Welty’s “Robber Bridegroom,” in which bits of fairy tales, myths, legends and Southern folklore are stitched together into a marvelous new . . . something.