Monday, September 18, 2017

Brave Red, Smart Frog by Emily Jenkins, 2017

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Step into a wintry forest where seven iconic fairy tales unfold, retold with keen insight and touches of humor.
There once was a frozen forest so cold, you could feel it through the soles of your boots. It was a strange place where some kisses broke enchantments and others began them. Many said witches lived there -- some with cold hearts, others with hot ovens and ugly appetites -- and also dwarves in tiny houses made of stones. In this icy wood, a stepmother might eat a girl's heart to restore her own beauty, while a woodcutter might become stupid with grief at the death of his donkey. Here a princess with too many dresses grows spiteful out of loneliness, while a mistreated girl who is kind to a crone finds pearls dropping from her mouth whenever she speaks. With empathy and an ear for emotion, Emily Jenkins retells seven fairy tales in contemporary language that reveals both the pathos and humor of some of our most beloved stories. Charming illustrations by Rohan Daniel Eason add whimsical details that enhance every new reading.

(104 pages)

Like most people, I've always loved fairy tales. There's something really magical about reading the stories that have been honed through generations of telling and retelling, where magic exists and it usually teaches a lesson and bad people/decisions wind up in terrible trouble. I haven't read all the original tales, but I had a storybook when I was little that told the "true" stories in a pretty way without putting too much emphasis on the gore. I always liked those versions more than the Disney ones.

That's why I chose to review Brave Red, Smart Frog. I did indeed know six of them in some form or another (though my version of the woodcutter who gets three wishes involved a river spirit throwing increasingly-ornate axes onto the bank); the only one that was completely unfamiliar was "The Three Great Noodles," which was actually a really cool story. It may well have been my favorite from the collection, and not just because it was the only new one for me!

I do like these retellings; they stick with the original material but cut out the worst parts and very cleverly fill in some of the logic gaps left by the originals. They also feature familial relationships that are much more realistic than the ones usually described in the fairy tales (full of dysfunction, yes, but also love). However, I wish the stories were longer–they each take up about 13 pages or so, a shortness that I'm just not used to anymore. I suppose this is good for kids listening to the stories at bedtime, but it leaves me wishing for more!

If you like fairy tale retellings, then Brave Red, Smart Frog might be what you're looking for. I can't say that it stands head and shoulders above all the other fairy tale retellings out there, because it doesn't really, but I can say that I enjoyed it and I'm sure others will as well. It doesn't have many illustrations, which is a pity, but the stories are told very well. Jenkins put together a very nice collection!


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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