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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fractured Fairy Tales

So, does the phrase Fractured Fairy Tales give anyone else flashbacks of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show? Since Rocky and Bullwinkle aired in the fifties and the sixties twisting a classic fairy tale is nothing new. However, if you turn on the TV or go to the movies today it is apparent that the retelling of fairy tales is a current trend. Fans of Grimm, Once Upon a Time, The Descendants, and blockbuster hits like Maleficent have no shortage of books to read either since a multitude of authors are reinventing the fairy tale in a variety of ways.


Of all the fairy tale themed chapter books written for young readers I think that Liesl Shurtliff's are my favorites.  Let's face it, the majority of books in this genre are princess-themed stories aimed at girls. Not being a girly-girl myself, Shurtliff's hilarious and creative spins on the classic tales of Rumpelstiltskin and Jack and the Beanstalk are more up my alley. Both stories are teeming with interesting characters and giggle worthy moments. Who knew that Rumpelstiltskin wasn't some evil imp but just a hapless twelve year old struggling to find his true destiny while combating a magical curse? In her second book Shurtliff takes on Jack and the Beanstalk in a madcap adventure somewhat reminiscent of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Check out the trailer for Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood which comes out this April. I cannot wait!


In the Hero's Guide series, Christopher Healy turns those antiquated princess fairy tales on their head by focusing on all of the Prince Charmings whom we know so little about. Now, some young readers may be intimidated by the thickness of these books, but  give the Hero's Guide series a chance. I nearly peed my pants (more than once) as Prince Liam, Prince Frederic, Prince Gustav, and Prince Duncan bumbled through the various kingdoms trying to prove their heroism.

The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley brings all of those wonderful fairy tale characters into the modern world. After their parents disappear Daphne and Sabrina are sent to live in a small town with a grandmother that they thought was dead. Granny Relda informs the sisters that not only are they the descendants of the famous Brothers Grimm, but fairy tales and all of the monsters, princesses, witches, etc. from them are real and living in Ferryport Landing. As Grimms, it is up to Sabrina and Daphne to investigate any crimes or mischief perpetrated by Everafters (fairy tale characters). You can imagine the hijinks that occur in a town where Puss-in-Boots is the local exterminator, Prince Charming is the mayor, and Cinderella is a relationship counselor on the radio.

The Hero's Guide and Sisters Grimm series are light and somewhat silly takes on fairy tales. Juvenile fiction author, Adam Gidwitz, has written a trilogy revolving around the classic Grimm fairy tales that is, well, a bit more grim. The narrator even warns readers that small children should just go to bed before listening to the story. That is not to say that there is not plenty of wit and humor, but Gidwitz does not shy away from the gorier parts of traditional fairy tales. If you are the least bit squeamish when it comes to beheading, dismemberment, vomit, guts, blood etc. then you should probably avoid these books. Older readers with a penchant for horror, however, will delight in the carnage.  

Each book revolves around a pair of children: Hansel and Gretel in A Tale Dark and Grimm, Jack and Jill in In a Glass Grimmly, and Jorinda and Joringel in The Grimm Conclusion. Horribly mistreated by the adults in their lives, the children are forced to make their way through the bloody landscape of a mishmash of well-known fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. Yes, the books are somewhat gruesome, but there is also whimsy, humor, and hope. Not to mention a hilarious, snarky narrator who repeatedly breaks the fourth wall (acknowledges and speaks directly to the reader).  Some readers do not like it when the author breaks the fourth wall, but I think that the way Gidwitz does it is hysterical. His frequent interjections also lighten the darkness of the books.

If you want more twisted fairy tales for young readers there is a more complete list here.

Keeping with the Grimms, Polly Shulman's tween/teen novel, The Grimm Legacy, is wonderfully imaginative and entertaining. Having an after-school job in a library may not seem that exciting. However, Elizabeth is working in an extraordinary library that lends out objects rather than books. When the powerful, magical items from the Grimm room begin to disappear, Elizabeth and her friends set out to find the thief.

If you enjoy The Grimm Legacy, you can read about more adventures involving the New York Circulating Repository in The Wells Bequest and The Poe Estate.

Who would think to toss Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Red Riding Hood together in a futuristic science fiction story line replete with cyborgs, genetic mutations, space travel, and androids? That is exactly what author, Marissa Meyer, does in The Lunar Chronicles and the results are ingenious and wildly fun. I will say that everything wraps up a bit too tidily in the end and some of the romance is a bit ridiculous. That is where you have to remind yourself that, hey, this is a series written for teenagers. Overall, The Lunar Chronicles are an entertaining ride from the earth to the moon and back again.

Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz may not be traditional fairy tales but I have decided to include two young adult series inspired by them in this post.

The first of these is The Looking Glass Wars (obviously based on Alice in Wonderland) by Frank Beddor. Imagine for a moment that Charles Dodgson (aka: Lewis Carroll) did not invent a magical place called Wonderland to entertain a young girl named Alice Liddell. Rather, Wonderland is a real place and Princess Alyss Heart was the heir to the throne before being orphaned and stranded in Victorian era England. After being adopted by the Liddell family Alyss (renamed Alice) tells family friend, Dodgson, of her homeland and he uses her stories as the inspiration for the famous children's book. Fast forward a dozen years and Alice is a beautiful young lady who has convinced herself that her memories of Wonderland were just fanciful dreams. That is until her royal body guard, Hatter Madigan, rescues her from the Red Queen's assassin, the Cheshire Cat, on her wedding day. Dragged back to the homeland she believed to be fantasy, Alice must remember that she is Alyss Heart, the rightful queen. Using the power of imagination Alyss fights to rid Wonderland of Red, the evil usurper of the throne.

I love how Beddor seamlessly combines historical figures and "reality" with the fantastical world of Wonderland. Although inspired by Lewis Carroll's classic children's book, Beddor's Looking Glass Wars stand on their own. The way Beddor re-conceives Carroll's characters is fascinating. I particularly love how the featherbrained Mad Hatter is transformed into Hatter Madigan, a powerful, intelligent warrior who is a cross between a Navy Seal and James Bond.

Obviously, I am not the only one to fall head-over-heels for Hatter Madigan because he is the main character in the graphic novel series based on the The Looking Glass Wars. The Hatter M graphic novels follow the royal body guard in his 13 year quest to locate Alyss Heart in the "real" world. Dark, gritty, with superb artwork, fans of The Looking Glass Wars will want to check these out. 

I was super geeked to learn that Beddor is writing a new series for middle grade readers based on The Looking Glass Wars. These prequel novels will feature a teenage Hatter Madigan and revolve around his adventures as a young cadet in Wonderland's Millinery Academy. The first of these books, Hatter Madigan: The Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. comes out in April 2016!

Moving on to The Other Side of the Rainbow Collection by Danielle Paige. This collection consists of a trilogy and then a series of prequel novellas inspired by Frank L. Baum's Oz books. I must admit that from the moment the first book came out with the title Dorothy Must Die I knew that I had to read the series. Maybe I am just twisted, but the re-imagining of Baum's legendary characters (Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Lion, the Tinman, Glinda, etc.) as vile and corrupt was so intriguing and fun to read.

Amy Gumm is another ordinary girl from Kansas when a tornado whisks the decrepit trailer she lives in to Oz. This is not the same Oz from the books and movies, though. With an unquenchable lust for power and magic, Dorothy Gale and her villainous cohorts have enslaved the entire land and subjected the inhabitants to unbelievable atrocities. Now it is up to Amy, recruited and trained by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, to kill Dorothy and free Oz.

Once again, there were moments while reading these books that I had to remind myself who the target audience was. The character of Amy Gumm is frequently a little too whiny and angst-ridden for my tastes and the romance definitely came across as silly. For the most part, though, I enjoyed the novels. Especially how deliciously loathsome Paige made the beloved characters from The Wizard of Oz.


I cannot talk about riffs on the Oz books without mentioning The Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire.

Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with Wicked, the first book in this series, that has since been adapted into a Tony winning Broadway play.Wicked tells the true story of Elphaba, the wicked witch of the west, who perhaps wasn't quite so wicked after all. The Wicked Years are a clever and cynical take on an Oz that is beset by political and social strife.

Although I have not read it yet, Gregory Maguire's lates novel After Alice is riff on the Lewis Carroll Classic.
Gregory Maquire has also written a couple of enthralling novels that are twists on classic fairy tales.  As you can probably infer from the titles and cover art Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is inspired by Cinderella and Mirror Mirror is a unique spin on Snow White. Both books have the scathing wit and dark cynicism that is characteristic of Maguire's writing. I thought that it was especially interesting that Mirror Mirror is set in 16th century Italy and the wicked stepmother is none other than Lucrezia Borgia.

The latest novel by Gregory Maguire, After Alice, is a riff on the beloved Lewis Carroll classic. Published in 2015 to coincide with the 150 year anniversary of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Maguire tells the story of Ada, a young neighbor of Alice who also falls down the rabbit hole.

I have not had a chance to read After Alice yet, but the reviews have been stellar.

“Continuing his tradition of rewriting fairy tales with an arch eye and offbeat point of view, Maguire turns his attention to Lewis Carroll and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. . . . A brilliant and nicely off-kilter reading of the children’s classic, retrofitted for grown-ups—and a lot of fun.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

 “[Maguire’s] playful vocabulary may be Carroll-esque, but his keen wit is closer to Monty Python, with a fine, unforced sense of play… his erudition is a joy, his sense of fun infectious.” (Joe Hill, New York Times Book Review)

 “Stunningly clever in its conflation of fairy tales, the mix and match of characters, woven throughout with references to philosophical ideas, the social issues of the day, and attitudes of the time…Maguire impressively channels Carroll’s penchant for humorous wordplay, literary nonsense, and logic games.” (Boston Globe)

I will definitely have to pick up a copy soon to see if After Alice lives up to the hype.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Dark Tower Hits the Big Screen

I am a huge fan of Stephen King. Maybe not to the extent that I would chop off his foot and lock him in a back bedroom, but I do love his books. (For the record, in the book Misery Annie Wilkes does not "hobble" Paul Sheldon with a sledge hammer. She cuts off his foot with an axe.) Despite some deviations from the book, Misery was a fantastic film.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case with the movies based on Stephen King's books. I do, however, have high hopes for the big screen version of The Dark Tower, King's legendary eight novel series that is frequently referred to as his magnum opus. Most of us think of Stephen King as just a master of horror, but The Dark Tower is a spectacular  mishmash of sci-fi, western, and fantasy that was actually inspired by Robert Browning's 1855 poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.

I won't go too much into the plot of The Dark Tower. As in Browning's poem, the main character, Roland, is on an epic journey across a landscape fraught with dangers to the mysterious dark tower. In King's books Roland Deschain is the last gunslinger in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by demons and other horrors.

It is uncertain if there will be only one movie that encompasses more than one book or multiple movies featuring Roland Deschain. However, King has confirmed that the movie will begin with the opening line from The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower Book One.
              "The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
Also, it has been revealed that the Man in Black will be played by none other than Matthew McConaughey.  I must confess, that I get chills just thinking about it.

 I am equally excited that the role of Roland Deschain is going to be played by Idris Elba. The British actor may be familiar to Americans as Heimdall from the Marvel Thor movies.  I happen to particularly adore Elba in the British crime drama, Luther.

With such phenomenal casting I am hoping that The Dark Tower movie will measure up to the books.

The projected release date for The Dark Tower film is January 2017 so if you have not read the books you have plenty of time to check them out first. I admit that it has been quite a few years since I have read The Dark Tower books so I may need to revisit Mid-World before next January.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Portland Creates!

I am excited to announce Portland Creates has had 131 art entries. Portland Creates is a community based art contest that allows local artists of all ages to show off their talents and inspire others to do the same.We are very proud to have such great participation for our first year of Portland Creates and even more thrilled to have beat our goal of 100 entries. 

 Here on the Main floor of the library we have 32 adult art submissions on display as well as 6 staff submissions.These works of art range from photography, to paintings, sketches and even metal work. 

Staff Art

  Downstairs in the children's area we have 54 entries displayed. These entries were all created by children between the ages of 6 and 12. 

At our local Portland Federal Credit Union you will find tables filled with 45 teen submissions! 

Voting will take place throughout the entire month of March! Since the winners are decided based on popular vote be sure to stop in and support your favorite artists as often as possible! You may submit one vote per day, per age group. This means you can vote each day for your favorite adult, child, teen and staff member. At the end of the contest we will total the votes and the top 3 adults, teens, and children will each receive a prize! For the staff portion only one winner will be selected and since it is held separately from the Portland Creates event they will receive a staff related prize. The winners will be announced at the reception that will be held for participants and their guests on April 15th. We will display the winning works of art for one month following the contest.

How Portland Creates! came to be.................

Growing up I loved art class, I loved the feeling of accomplishment I got when I created something and I loved it even more when others liked what I created. The sad thing is, outside of school I never felt there was anything I could do with that talent. Once I finished High School the amount of things I sketched, painted, or sculpted dropped significantly. There was no need to work on anything artsy when there was nothing for me to do with it. I think this sadly happens to a lot of creative people in small towns. For me art supplies cost money and it comes down to why spend the money to finish something and have it sit in a box somewhere?

My passion for art was revived when I went on my first cruise last spring. This is where I attended my first art auction. For the first time I ever saw a famous work of art in person! My husband and I went to the art gallery events every day, it was the only thing we'd plan on. Seeing the beautiful colors, textures, and various techniques was beyond inspiring. I came home with a revived passion for art and a million ideas running through my head. I was finally inspired again! I wanted to find a way to bring more artistic inspiration to our small town as well.

I spent time researching other art contests to get an idea of how this contest should be run. I've spent months planning and coming up with the rules. I even wrote my first grant application with the help of our library director, and we were thrilled when we received that grant. I visited local schools to get the art teachers involved, and I know that without their support we would not have received so many teen and child submissions.Thanks to Lowell Arts, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs Minigrant Program, and our partner PFCU! I believe this event has become a great success.

Portland Creates is something our town needed.  Many of the patrons that have come into the library have raved about the idea behind this event. They also felt like we have needed more artistic outlets. It's great to see our community embrace the idea as much as I have. I've loved seeing the excitement our patrons have expressed while browsing the art entries.  Some have even commented to us on how talented some of our community members are. We have watched as a family browsed the art and voted for their favorites. It was great to hear them discuss what they thought about each work of art and to see them encourage a love of art in their children. Portland Creates is something that not only benefits those with artistic talents, but also those who simply enjoy looking at art. Young aspiring artists can use the submitted art to learn new techniques and gain inspiration to improve various skills.