10.24.2008

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley, pictures by Peter Ferguson 284pp RL 4



How could I not love these books? How can I keep myself from going on and on about how much I love these books, especially since there are nine of them? I will try to contain myself to an overview of the series rather than reviews of the individual books and beg you to please visit the site Sisters Grimm to learn more about the series, but really, just go out and get book one, The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives today! For those of you already knee-deep into the series, check out this video interview conducted by a young fan at the virtual field trip site, Meet Me at the Corner. For  AMAZING website for fairy tale lovers, Sur la Lune Fairy Tales.




With the Sisters Grimm series, Michael Buckley proves that he is so completely creative, ingenious and hilarious that I will be jealous of him until the day I die. I wish I had thought of this! Even more so, I wish I had thought of a story line that allowed me to play, in writing, with all of my favorite fairy tale characters. The overall conceit of the series is that the writings of Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm were not tales, but history books recounting the exploits of the Everafters, or the characters from fairy tales (as well as other books like The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, to name a few.) When it seemed as though the Everafters were getting out of control and unable to coexist alongside humans the Brothers Grimm teamed up with the powerful witch from Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga, to cast a spell that would keep all of the Everafters contained in one city - Ferryport Landing, NY. The caveat to the spell is that a direct descendant of the Grimms must always live in Ferryport Landing and record the goings on of the Everafter as well as police them. Evil characters being a crucial element of fairy tales, of course there are several disgruntled Everafters who are not happy with this arrangement and always looking for a way out of Ferryport Landing. However, there are also a few Grimms who are not happy with the arrangement either... There are also Everafters who find other ways of getting into trouble and breaking laws and Granny Relda, widow of Basil Grimm (a nice aside, Buckely dedicates book one to his grandparents, Basil and Relda) is always there to crack the case and find out who is behind each crime.



When the series begins, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, ages eleven and seven, have spent the last year and a half in orphanages and foster homes since the disappearance of their parents, but are now on their way to live with a grandmother they had believed to be dead. Sabrina has taken on the role of protector and skeptic, understandable considering some of the foster parents they have escaped from, while Daphne remains sunny and inquisitive and pretty much the seven year old she is. The girls are welcomed lovingly to Ferryport Landing by Granny Relda, her companion Mr Canis and her Great Dane, Elvis, who is often comic relief. Granny Relda does not tell the girls anything about their father or extended family initially, and even deflects some of the girls' questions. She doles out information, bit by bit, over the course of the books mostly for the girls' own safety, but also because, knowing Sabrina is so skeptical, she wants to gain her trust and give her an accurate, favorable impression of the family and world she has unwillingly become part of. A secondary plot line involves The Scarlet Hand, an secret organization of Everafters and their evil machinations. And, in every book, there is always a different crime or mystery to be solved by Granny Relda and the girls and assorted Everafters.



This series full of action and adventure, but for me it is character driven, and perhaps it has to be since readers are somewhat familiar with almost all of the fairy tale characters who pop up in this story in one way or another. However, I find myself completely taken with the characters I haven't met before - Sabrina, Daphne and Granny Relda. Over the course of six books, thus far, Buckley has imbued Granny Relda with humanity, compassion, patience and understanding. She has a deep love for and acceptance of her family and their individual qualities, whether they love their lot in life or loathe it. She also has some nice quirks, like a rusted out jumble of an old car that has rope seat belts and is so loud that it is impossible to converse when the engine is running. She also fully embraces her role of guard, protector and keeper of Everafters and has a house full of books to keep her knowledgeable - Birds of Oz, Shoes, Toys and Cookies: The Elvish Handcraft Tradition, 365 Ways to Cook a Dragon and Architecture for Pigs, among many. Relda also has an arsenal of magical objects at her disposal, guarded by Mirror - the wicked step-mother of Snow White's magic mirror. Mirror is actually an eccentric, droll man who lives inside the mirror (which is an "arcane powered, multi-phasic, trans-dimensional pocket universe") and is always on hand to help the girls out of a scrape or lend them a flying carpet or ruby slippers from the Hall of Wonders, or, as Granny calls it, the world's biggest walk-in closet. Another nice touch is Granny's questionable culinary skill. The first meal she serves the girls, spaghetti and meatballs, consists of black noodles, orange sauce and green meatballs and smells both sweet and spicy at the same time. The characters of Sabrina and Daphne are rich with determination, stubbornness, and an evolving maturity that can be moving to witness. They also have lighter sides. One the funniest running gags is Daphne's continual excitement at meeting Everafters. Every time she sees one of her favorites for the first time she shoves her the heel of her palm into her mouth to keep from squealing. Another story line full of laughs involves Sabrina and Puck, the Trickster (Faerie) King of mythology and star of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Despite her mistrust of and sometimes prejudice against Everafters, Sabrina finds herself with a bit of a crush on him.



Puck and Mr Canis are among the most richly written, detailed Everafter characters that Buckley evolved/created. Everafters, who are eternal, can choose to age and stop aging at will and, those who are animals, such as The Three Pigs, can take on human appearances at times. Puck has chosen to remain somewhere between age 11- 13 and, finding plenty of mischief to make in Ferryport Landing does not mind his imprisonment there. While he is initially jealous that the Sisters Grimm have usurped his role as sometimes-visiting-only-child in Granny Relda's home, he teams up with them to fight a giant in book one. As the books and his relationship with Sabrina and the Grimms progress, he changes and matures along with the girls. Reluctant protector and at odds with his mischievous nature, Puck gradually grows into his role and place in their family. However, he still pulls some really great gags on Sabrina (in the way that boys often tease girls they like) one of which involves a black Sharpie marker and the all-caps words CAPTAIN DOODIEFAICE.

Mr Canis has his own interesting background and is a prime example of Granny Relda's compassionate nature. If you plan to read these books and want to be surprised STOP READING HERE!! If not, continue on for a description of Mr Canis' true nature.

Mr Canis, or The Big Bad Wolf, or Tobias Clay, has his story told in book six. I can't go into too many details because there are other story lines intertwined with his, but I can tell you that Mr Canis has almost no memory of the man he was, Tobias Clay, before a witch with a magical kazoo unleashed the insanity that she sucked out of a rabid wolf on him. The magical kazoo makes its way into the hands of the Three Pigs and eventually Sabrina and Daphne. Mr Canis, the man Tobias Clay becomes, spends centuries practicing a Zen-like meditation that allows him to keep his wolf-nature in check and serve as a body guard to the Grimms in an effort to atone for his crimes. While protecting them in book one he accidentally tastes the blood of Jack the Giant Killer and gradually loses control of himself over the course of the next four books. By book six we see him on trial for his crimes, utterly defeated and ready to die. But Granny Relda won't let him Despite a conviction on Sabrina's part that he should be left to hang - one that causes a deep rift between her and Granny - Relda digs and digs until she reveals the truth of his existence as the Big Bad Wolf.

I feel like I can't say this enough, so I will say it one more time. The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckey - with beautiful, sometimes moody, sometimes playful full-page black and white drawings in each chapter and more traditional, silhouettes at the heading of each chapter by Peter Ferguson - is, along the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, the BEST fantasy series for children written since JK Rowling introduced us to Harry Potter in 1997. All three series have authors with amazingly creative imaginations and the writing skills to transfer those ideas onto paper, creating full blown characters and complete magical worlds that draw the reader in immediately. The genuine human qualities and personal growth that the characters exhibit cause you to care about them, maybe even fall in love with them and yearn to hear more of their stories with every book.

Five of the six books in the series are currently in paperback, and at the end of books one and two there is a great "Guide to Fairy Tales and the Sisters Grimm." It includes a letter from Michael Buckley about the creation of the books, brief descriptions of what fairy tales are and how they are different but also a bit the same all over the world, a bit about the Brothers Grimm, "Basic Ingredients" for fairy tales, a quiz and inspirations for kids to write their own fairy tales and a list of suggested fairy tale reading.

18 comments:

Alex said...

This is a great series! My oldest (11) read all of them besides the last one. We read the first one aloud. Great review!

Tanya said...

Excellent! I'm glad to hear that kids are loving these books as much as I am. I hope that they inspire kids to look into the original fairy tales, also. They are an awesome read alouds, too. I forgot to mention in my post that the audio books of this series are very well done, also. Thanks for the comment!

Jeremy said...

Weird, I actually have the audiobook and hardcover for the first one out from the library right now, but haven't gotten to them yet. I had hoped to start them while on a roadtrip last week, but it didn't look like good bedtime material. Do you think 5-7 year olds would likely find this too scary? Perhaps as a read aloud we can finesse it. Anyway, thanks for this nudge...looking forward to checking them out.

Michael Buckley said...

Thanks Tanya, I'm honored you are enjoying the series so much. I have a lot of fun writing them and I'm glad so many people are still discovering Sabrina and Daphne. Let me know if I can help you sell those books!
Michael Buckley

Tanya said...

It depends on what a 5-7 year old finds scary - the scenes when the girls are in danger can be pretty tense, more so than a traditional fairy tale. I think listening to the audio book might lessen the tension and fear factor, being one step removed from the action. The tense scenes are brief, too and definitely tweak-able when reading out loud!

Tanya said...

Wow!!!! Thanks for the comment!! Your incredible books sell themselves, but anytime you are in San Diego county be sure to drop Barnes & Noble and sign a few books, or more! Thanks again! Keep working on #7!

Jeremy said...

Whoa, cool to see the author pop in here! I better not say anything nasty about the books now.
;-)

I'm not a fan of fairy tales, and I only picked this one up because it was one of the few audiobooks I could find in the library before a road trip with the kids...so my expectations were low, at least until I read this review. In fact I probably wouldn't have bothered to try it if your words hadn't glowed quite so much.

But I was glad I did. Fun, fast-paced, and compelling characters. I thought of Spiderwicks a few times, more just in the tone, I think (and I like Spiderwicks). Too intense for my girls right now, but I bet they'll love it at some point. Looking forward to checking out the rest of the series soon!

Tanya said...

Glad you gave it a try! You're right - it does get pretty intense and I think I may have downplayed that a bit too much in the review.. The themes and content also mature a bit as the books progress, too. I think they really are for kids 10+. I just worry that the way most kids zip past childhood into tween/teenage years that they will consider a story with fairy tales as part of the plot to be below them - like The Doll People. How many girls who can read at a 4th grade reading level still play with dolls? I shouldn't be so skeptical - American Girl Dolls are still pretty big, but so are Bratz...

Jeremy said...

Good point. Even Ivy, who turned seven this summer, would probably say she wasn't interested in dolls anymore...yet she really enjoyed The Doll People. We're reading The Meanest Doll in the World right now as a read aloud and both girls are loving it. But I wonder how many ten-year-olds would even pick those books up?

Melis said...

My nine year old started reading these last year in 3rd grade. She loves them so she's even taken to re-reading (something she never does). She was so excited to receive the new "Book 6" for Christmas that she dropped everything and started reading immediately. We give these books as gifts to her friends in hopes that they, too, will get caught up in all the magic, mystery and suspense that the series has to offer. Looking forward to #7!

Tanya said...

That is so great to hear! We sell a lot at the bookstore and every once in a while I find the right child to recommend them to. That is so great that your give them as birthday gifts - keep it up! I figure sixth grade is probably the cut-off age for reader's being willing and interested in picking up the series. Check out Michael Buckley's site. It's a treat. I am eagerly awaiting books 7 also. Ask your daughter if she thinks Puck and Sabrina will ever be nice to each other...

John said...

A fifth grader recommended these books to me, to say the least, I have now read the first 5 in one week and listened to 6 on CD. My husband has now completed the first 5 and is now listening to 6 and my daughter is already on 5 almost ready for 6. We love these books, the imagination of Michael Buckley is amazing, utilizing so many characters and intertwining them with fantastic twists and turns. We love them!! I do have a question, does anyone know how many books there might be in all?

Tanya said...

I'm so glad you love these books as much as I do! They definitely have adult appeal and, while I love the illustrations, the audio versions are so fun to listen to. I just checked the "Sister's Grimm" website again and couldn't find any news on Book 7 or how many books the series might have. I just found a great clip of an interview with Buckley that was posted about a week ago and I have added a link in the review. I think I saw cover art for the next book (Everafter War?) and he does mention a movie in the works and a few clues about where the series is headed...

Tanya said...

NEWSFLASH!!!!! There is a title and plot synopsis for book 7!!!! I just added a link in the first paragraph of the review of the series to a really fabulous website where I found the information! Check it out!

Grace said...

My daughter and I love the audiobooks. The voice actor is incredible, and we can't wait to listen to the Everafter War.

Tanya said...

Ganser is amazing. He also reads the Clemency Pogue books, which I have reviewed. If you check out the Recorded Books Direct website or audible.com you can see a picture of him and a list of all his work. I can listen to him read anything. I am a huge, huge fan of Jim Dale, who reads the Harry Potter books, but I can't listen to him read other books and I have tried... Although, Dale does read Peter Pan and the new sequel to Winnie the Pooh, which could work.

nastia said...

I love The sister grimm books. I read all of the books but the ninth. I like everyone but mostly puck. I cant wait till the ninth book. MICHAEL BUCKLEY your my favorite and the best author.
I LOVE U PUCK<3
LOVE,NASTIA AGE !)

Tanya said...

Puck is the bomb... And Michael Buckley!