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 six 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 a little advance information on Book 7, The Everafter War, check out this 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. Below are the titles of the books in order.
The Fairy Tale Detectives
The Unusual Suspects
The Problem Child
Once Upon a Crime
Magic and Other Misdemeanors
Tales From the Hood