I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book from NetGalley (with special thanks to The School and Library team at Random House Children's Books) in exchange for an honest review. Reading this book was a pleasure, as I thoroughly enjoyed Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff and Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff .
Shurtliff does a terrific job of taking a classic fairy tale and making it fresh and exciting by giving us the back story of the characters in it. While this book is part of an awesome series, it stands by itself and is enjoyable even if you haven't read the other titles. My students love these books and they don't sit on my shelf for very long.
The first chapter introduces us to Red, a little girl with a magical grandmother. Red's grandmother is a well-known witch in The Woods, but Red doesn't believe in her own magical powers. She describes clumsy attempts to perform spells, the worst of which resulted in an injury to her beloved granny. Red refuses to try to use magic out of fear that something terrible will happen.
But then her grandmother becomes ill, and needs her Curious Cure-All potion. It is up to Red to go out to The Woods to gather the ingredients for this recipe, which includes pixie venom, tree-nymph wings, and wolf hairs. Granny gives Red a special red cloak with magical powers to wear during this mission.
Red is joined on this adventure by Goldie, an annoying, nosy girl with golden curls. Together they encounter nymphs, gnomes, dwarves, and other dangerous creatures. The reader is taken on a journey to find the magic that is going to save Granny.
I know that this will be a very popular book among middle grade readers. The story is engaging and suspenseful, even to those who think they know what will happen because of the classic fairy tale. There is danger and violence, but they are appropriate to the story and not over-the-top. Some of the plot events might be a bit confusing for less mature readers, as there are a lot of characters introduced, some with complicated histories and motives.
I love the character development in this book. In the beginning of the story, Red is somewhat self-focused and impatient with anything that isn't important to her goals. She makes many attempts to stop Goldie from accompanying her on her adventure. As the story goes along, she begins to realize Goldie's vulnerabilities and challenges (she's desperate to receive love from her own mother). Then she starts to consider things from Goldie's perspective:
"Perhaps my mother thought me a little odd. She might not understand me like Granny did, but I never questioned that she loved me. All mothers love their children, don't they?"
Through the course of the book both Red and Goldie learn a lot about working together and considering the feelings of others. They learn that there's more to people and situations than what meets the eye. They become wiser, braver and stronger as they go along.
I appreciate the positive messages that young readers can take away from this book. Perseverance is such an important lesson to kids in a world where instant-gratification makes them so impatient with themselves. Red is very reluctant to try to use magic to help on this adventure because of past mistakes and the fear that she will cause something awful to happen. At one point, Goldie tells her about all of the cuts and bruises she suffered as she was learning to walk:
"I kept walking, even though I sometimes got hurt. I kept trying until I got better and stopped getting hurt. It's simple now, but it wasn't always. Some mistakes need to be made. Sometimes we have to fall down before we can stand up."
Another awesome message in this book deals with the power fear can have to hold us back in life:
"Fear doesn't only twist our magic, it also makes us forget. It made me forget who I was, the strength and the goodness I had inside me."
That's a terrific message for everyone! How much do we lose when we're so afraid that we stop facing life as it comes? When I got to that message, I became a little emotional and I LOVE when books to that!
There is so much for readers of all ages to enjoy and take away from this book. I would love to share this book with my fifth grade students.
Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: April 12th 2016