Monday, July 1, 2013

Tales from the Hood

Tales from the Hood
by Michael Buckley
Recommended Ages: 10+

The sixth book in the "Sisters Grimm" series features another "fractured fairy-tale" to delight middle-grade readers. Sabrina and Daphne go through a lot in this installment. While Sabrina finds herself reaching the age where she can't help worrying about how she looks, Daphne suddenly—and, to Sabrina, irritatingly—takes to imitating her older sister. But Daphne's trust in Sabrina will take a beating as the lure of a magical weapon, the fear of a family friend with a monster within, and a longing to cure the curse that keeps their parents asleep, lead Sabrina to take desperate steps.

Meanwhile, all is not well in Ferryport Landing, New York. The storybook characters who have long been trapped in the town grow each day more hostile to the Grimm family, their guardians. Mayor Heart and Sheriff Nottingham have arrested Mr. Canis, the family's most faithful protector, on charges of being the Big Bad Wolf. And even with Robin Hood and Little John arguing for the defense, it doesn't look good. The witnesses lined up by prosecuting attorney Bluebeard paint a terrible picture of Mr. Canis' violent past. And the Judge—an eccentric person named Hatter, esq.—refuses to allow the defense lawyers to speak. Plus, everybody knows what happened to Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. Who really believes Mr. Canis is innocent?

Well, the pigs do. The former sheriff's deputies actually try to help the defense. And mad as little Miss Hood is (and in case you've forgotten her previous outing, she's dangerously insane), something tells the Grimms that Red's memories contradict the wood cutter's boastful, self-serving story. But with the jury stacked with members of the anti-Grimm-family Red Hand organization, and the same Red Hand frustrating the family's attempts to reach the only person who can wake the girls' parents, only a magical weapon can save the day. A weapon mysteriously tied to the origins of the Big Bad Wolf....

Light humor, dark danger, powerful magic, and a certain homey warmth blend together in this story, along with characters from a wide range of folklore and children's literature. Denizens of Oz, Wonderland, Camelot, and Sherwood Forest cross paths with characters out of Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm. But it's the perspective of the Sisters Grimm that puts this imagination engine on course for the hearts and minds of young readers: a point of view that doesn't overlook the realistic, everyday problems of being a pre-teen girl, just because she happens to live in the same ZIP code as Snow White.

Plus, it's just plain funny, from the opening gag in which a leprechaun pops out of a toilet to a description of the clothes worn by the Three Bears. Even at my decrepit age, I enjoyed this book. I might have enjoyed it even a bit more if the selfsame secret weapon hadn't solved quite so many problems, or if the front-cover artwork didn't give that solution away. But the ending still leaves plenty of room for a sequel. And indeed, there are already three more books in this series, titled The Everafter War, The Inside Story, and The Council of Mirrors. Since writing this book, author Buckley has also published the first five-books in a series of kiddie espionage capers, collectively titled N.E.R.D.S.

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