I’d like to put in a plug for Adam Gidwitz’s middle grade novel, A Tale Dark & Grimm (along with his two sequels, In A Glass Grimmly, and The Grimm Conclusion).

The first book is an entertaining retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story like you’ve never heard it before. Hansel and Gretel run away from their own story into eight other scary fairy tales. They encounter witches and warlocks, hunters with deadly aim, bakers who love to bake children, and more.

In the introduction, the author explains why he is writing new versions of old fairy tales. Here’s his beginning:

Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome. I know, I know, you don’t believe me. I don’t blame you. A little while ago, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Little girls in red caps skipping around the forest? Awesome? I don’t think so.


But then I started to read them. The real, Grimm ones. Very few little girls in red caps in those.


Well, there’s one. But she gets eaten.


“Okay,” you’re probably saying, “If fairy tales are awesome, why are all the ones I’ve heard so unbelievably, mind-numbingly boring?” You know how it is with stories. Someone tells a story. Then someone repeats and it changes. Then someone’s telling it to their kid and taking out all the scary, bloody scenes—in other words, the awesome parts—and the next thing you know the story’s about an adorable little girl in a red cap, skipping through the forest to take cookies to her granny. And you’re so bored you’ve passed out on the floor.


The real Grimm stories are not like that.

Gidwitz’s book is fun to read, and it also provides a wonderful example of the point made by child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, in his book about fairy tales called The Uses of Enchantment.

Bettelheim believes that fairy tales are healthy for kids because they deal with the dark parts of life and the dark parts of the world in an entertaining, once-upon-a-time way that makes it safe for kids to think about.

We all want to protect our children, of course. But the truth is, kids catch on pretty quickly about the dark side of life. I mentioned not long ago that my four-year-old granddaughter asked me to help her make a book which she entitled, Why Are Nightmares So Scary? Talking about scary things and drawing pictures of them was her way of getting an upper hand on her fears.

The point of Bettelheim (and Gidwitz) is that this is exactly what fairy tales do—they help kids get a handle on the dark side of life. Again and again, they portray heroes (usually kids) who face real troubles and problems but use their wits and courage to overcome and find happiness. These stories subtly encourage kids to have a view of the world that is both realistic and uplifting.

Strong medicine? If it is, Gidwitz’s books deliver that message with a spoonful of sugar, “in the most delightful way”.