but at night I’m just a dad who puts / the kids to bed. …”
– From “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”
(Click to enlarge)
And, to be clear right off the bat, this is an illustrated book, but it’s not a picture book for young children. This is very much a YA/adult title.
Many of you may have already seen this collection of free verse poems, Ron Koertge’s Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses, released in July by Candlewick. U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis has said it’s “the best antidote I know to the sanctimonious sanitizing of fairy tales.” (Once I read that, I knew I had to read this book myself.)
Here, Koertge isn’t afraid to get gruesome, subversive, and downright nightmarish in his re-telling of 23 classic fairy tales. The blood-red endpapers give you a taste of this, followed by an invitation right off the bat from our author: “Do you want to sleep? Find another storyteller. Do you want to think about the world in a new way? Come closer. Closer, please. I want to whisper in your ear.”
This is the world of Ever After, and this ain’t no Disney.
This is the world of Cinderella’s bitter, discarded stepsisters, Sarah and Kathy: “…As we entered / the church, Ella’s vengeful birds plucked out our eyes. / Then nobody wanted us. We were monstrosities, / blind and lame. / So here we are in this deep coffin of sisterhood. / We will hold each other and kiss but now one/ of us pretends to be Death and the other his / grateful bride.”
This is poor Mrs. Bluebeard: “Her husband’s a serial killer, and her bodice is wet / with tears, but there’s a chance her brothers / will show up like winning lottery numbers.”
and brave. / But I think the moral is that children pay / for the sins of their parents. Ask anybody / who hates to go home after school. …”
– From “Little Thumb”
(Click to enlarge)
And the miller’s daughter of the Brothers Grimm’s The Robber Bridegroom who, after the traumatic, cannibalistic events she witnesses, “finds men untrustworthy now.” (Can you blame her?) “She prefers / to live alone and teach Feminist Theory & Practice / at the local community college.”
This is a world in which the teen Little Red Riding Hood (“Like, where to even start,” she opens) wants to be swallowed whole: “Anyway, it’s weird inside a wolf, / all hot and moist but no worse than flying coach to Newark…”
And this is, in my favorite poem of all, the Beast of Beauty and the Beast stating:
We’re happy now. We’re very,
very happy. But I have to admit
there’s not much to do in Ever After.
It’s always sunny and 78°. Every
night the fireworks light themselves.
With a sigh, sometimes, I brush
my perfect teeth and remember when
they were fangs.
The book has been described as no less than “fiendishly clever” (Publishers Weekly), “a wicked send-up of nursery tale morality” (Gregory Maguire), “sophisticated, witty and unnerving” (School Library Journal), “bewitching” (Betsy Franco), “insanely original” (Sonya Sones), and—my favorite description—”a swell mix of the comical, concrete, and macabre” (Horn Book). (The latter review asks high school teachers and librarians, “[n]eed to grab a restive class’s attention? Seek no further.”)
Dezsö’s illustrations—they look like cut paper, but a copyright-page note says they were created digitally—are dramatic and set just the right tone. She’s fearless, in fact. These illustrations are bold, haunting (in more ways than one), and bone-chilling in spots.
Want to know how the book closes? It gave me goosebumps, no kidding. The poem from which this very last verse comes is called “Wolf”:
This is our forest. Perfect before you came.
Perfect again when all your kind is dead.
LIES, KNIVES AND GIRLS IN RED DRESSES. Text copyright © 2012 by Ron Koertge. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Andrea Dezso. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.
You know how, when you’re in the middle of several good books, all you want to do is curl up and read? That’s me this week. I got up to type this post, but I think I’m going to head back to my warm covers and keep reading reading reading. I’m sure there were at least seven separate good kick-like things to my week and I promise to be more garrulous next week, but y’all … these books are good.
But please do tell me, dear imps …
What are YOUR kicks this week?