Fairy Tale Friday: The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde, was published in 2000 by Houghton Mifflin.

Have you ever wondered just what was going on when that odd little man with the long name stepped up and volunteered to spin straw into gold for the miller’s daughter? When you stop to think about it, there are some very peculiar, not to mention hard to explain, aspects to that story. Vivian Vande Velde has wondered too, and she’s come up with these six “alternative” versions of the old legend. A bevy of “miller’s daughters” confronts the perilous situation in ways that are sometimes comic, sometimes scary. Usually it’s the daughter who gets off safely. Other times—amazingly—it is Rumpelstiltskin himself who wins the day, and in one tale, it is the king who cleverly escapes a quite unexpected fate. Once you’ve read The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, you may never think about fairy tales in the same way again.

Rating: 4/5

I have a soft spot in my heart for Rumpelstiltskin, so when I read the author’s note that prefaced The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, I was a little disgruntled at how Vande Velde so callously tore apart my beloved fairy tale. Luckily, the six tongue-in-cheek “retellings” that followed were hilariously simple and brilliant reimaginings of the original fairytale. All of Vande Velde’s “explanations” for some of the odd occurences were wonderful, and I liked that she took a different approach for each story. Sometimes the miller’s daughter was the hero. Sometimes it was Rumpelstiltskin. And the king even gets his own part to play in one of the stories.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem is certainly not a “serious” retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, and Vande Velde’s humor is of a particular type which everyone may not enjoy, but the whole thing is wickedly clever regardless. It’s a quick, easy read and very conducive to reading out loud to children. It’s not particularly satisfying, but it is fun!

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

The lord high chamberlain said, “Christina’s father, what is the meaning of this?”

“I am not Christina’s father,” Otto said. “I don’t even know who Christina’s father is.” Now what? He continued, “I…might bear a slight resemblance to the man, but in truth I am a dangerous magical creature who knows all sorts of enchantments besides the spinning of gold form straw, and I have come to take what is rightfully mine. IF you don’t over my—this girl, I will put a terrible spell on you.”

He had been worried that he looked so frightening, Christina might not realize she was being rescued. And, indeed, he saw that she had clapped her hand to her forehead and that she was shaking her head.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2a2IJCJ

Fairy Tale Friday: Frogged

Frogged is written by Vivian Vande Velde. It was published in 2013 by Harcourt.

A princess ought to be as good as she is beautiful.” So says The Art of Being a Princess, which Princess Imogene is supposed to be reading. But since she is neither particularly good nor all that beautiful, she skips her homework to visit the pond. There she meets a talking frog who claims to be a prince under a witch’s spell. Imogene kindly kisses him to remove the spell—and gets turned into a frog herself! Now the only way for the princess to un-frog herself is to convince someone else to kiss her. But before she can figure out a plan, Imogene gets kidnapped and becomes the unwilling star attraction in a third-rate traveling theater company. Can she find a way to undo the witch’s spell—or will she be frogged forever?

Frogged is Vande Velde’s take on the “Frog Princess” fairy tale (where the princess who kisses the frog gets turned into a frog herself), but she does it by circumventing everything about the fairy tale and adding a twist to the spell. It’s a refreshing read, but it’s also amazingly funny mostly due to Imogene.

Imogene, for being only twelve, has fantastic snark. She gets into full-form during her travels with the theater company, and what takes the cake is that she’s a frog, so just picture a frog making a sarcastic comment and you get 80% of what Imogene does while with the traveling theater. She also becomes a crow and flies around and discusses the finer points of poetry with Ned, the leader of the company.

As I said, Vande Velde subverts a lot of this fairy tale, so that nothing is as it seems: not the “frog prince,” or the story he gives, or the spell, or the witch, or Imogene’s route out of froggery. I’m glad that she doesn’t play it straight, since Frogged has a lot more charm and memorable moments attached to it than E. D. Baker’s The Frog Princess (the “princess gets turned into a frog” fairy tale played straight). And it gives a nice, fresh perspective to the fairy tale, which is always appreciated.

One thing that bothered me slightly was that China, Africa, etc. were mentioned but to all intents and purposes the kingdom Imogene’s parent’s rule has no resemblance to any country on Earth, so in that respect the worldbuilding is rather poor if Vande Velde just created this made-up kingdom and squashed it in the world somewhere.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“I heard of parrots, Bertie. This is not that backwards of a place. But this is a frog, Bertie, not a bird.”

Bertie proved he was not the sort to ever back down from a debate. “I’m getting to that, my sweet. So in high society there’s always one duchess who wants to out-fashion another, and the very newest thing is to have a speaking frog from remotest China.”

“I thought you said it was an African speaking frog.”

“No, the parrots are from Africa; the frogs are from China.”

“You said Africa.”

Bertie considered. “Yes, my treasure, but the Chinese part of Africa.”

Imogene cut into the bickering. “Excuse me for interrupting,” she said, “but actually I’m from here. You see, I’m Princess Imogene, and—”

Luella asked Bertie, “If it’s a Chinese speaking frog, then how come I can understand what it’s saying? How come it don’t speak Chinese?”

Overall Review:

Frogged is delightful, an unique, fresh look at the “Frog Princess” fairy tale where Vande Velde doesn’t play by the rules and happily twists everything around while Imogene snarks from her bucket. The worldbuilding is confusing and a little sloppy, in my opinion, but the tale itself is wonderful.

You can buy this here: Frogged

Deadly Pink: The Dangers of Virtual Reality

Deadly Pink is written by Vivian Vande Velde. It was published in 2012 by Harcourt. It is a companion to Heir Apparent (which I reviewed here). Vande Velde’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Grace Pizzelli is the average sister. She’s nothing like her brilliant older sister, Emily, who works for Rasmussem, creators of the world’s best virtual reality games. They seem so real that you can taste the food and smell the flowers.

The games aren’t real, though—or at least they weren’t. Now that Emily has hidden herself inside one, it’s clear that the technology can’t keep her safe for long. Something must have gone terribly wrong for Emily to retreat into the pink and sparkly Land of the Golden Butterflies, but no one seems to know what.

Grace may consider herself average, but she’s the only one who can save Emily. So Grace enters the game, hoping to find her sister and talk her out of virtual suicide. There isn’t much time left before sustained exposure to the technology will have dire results. Unless Grace can find her sister soon, Emily will die—for real.”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

I liked Heir Apparent so much that I had to read another book set in the same universe. And despite the fact that it’s the same exact concept (girl goes into virtual-reality game, something goes wrong, girl must escape), it’s delivered differently, which makes it seem like a brand-new adventure.

Grace had such sarcastic humor; I loved her. Her obsession over the number-counting was hilarious and her thoughts all throughout the book were wonderful comic relief.

I said about Heir Apparent that there was a danger about portraying virtual reality the way Vande Velde did. In this book, I think Vande Velde really underscored the danger that she sort of ignored in the previous book. If you stay too long in fantasy, it will kill you. If you go into fantasy to escape reality, as Emily did, it will kill you. If you rely on fantasy to fix the problems of reality, things will not go well.

I liked the realistic ending, and how everything didn’t turn up all sunshine and roses and happy (the ending was happy, don’t get me wrong, but it showed the consequences of Emily’s actions realistically). Actually, I think the ending really just gave a great contrast to the virtual reality world of pixies and flowers and unicorns and how things don’t work that way in reality—and yet reality is so much better.

 

Cover Art

What I Didn’t Like:

Things were a little too obvious in regards to Emily, but I guess it was supposed to be that way. The minute they started talking about how popular Emily was and how she always came back every weekend, I knew that Emily was having trouble in college. The only thing I didn’t know was why, but I just chalked it up to college being completely different from high school. So, I guess the score part of Emily’s troubles was not so obvious.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Mentions of attempted suicide.

Genre: Realistic, Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

We came to another pot, this one holding hollyhocks. I thought I was doing a good job with hiding how impatient I was getting, but maybe not, because she said, “You can save us some time.” She pointed the way we’d been walking. “Around that corner—” it was a right-hand turn—“then take the second left, and there’s a vase holding a gerbera daisy. If you can get that for me while I pick these, then we can go back and drink some lemonade on the porch and discuss things.”

“Okay,” I said.

It only worked as far as “take the second left.” There was no vase.

And when I retraced my steps to the pot of hollyhocks—which were all still there, by the way—there was no Emily, either.

~Vande Velde 46-47

“So…?” I asked. His booth consisted of the wheel and the counter to separate us from the wheel. There were no numbers on the counter, so we weren’t betting on what would come up, and there were no shelves with prizes—neither exorbitant nor conventional. Had I just won eighty-seven pieces of our gold back? But he hadn’t given any coins to the gypsy girl or the pig man when he’d spun for them. “What do I win?”

The king and the gypsies exchanged a bemused look over that. ‘You won an eighty-seven,” the king said.

Before I could say, “Wow! That IS EXCITING!” I became aware that Emily was standing directly behind me.

~Vande Velde 207

Overall Review:

Deadly Pink is another wonderful look inside the world of (scary and dangerous) virtual reality fantasy games. This book really underscored the danger of fantasy and virtual reality in a way that was lacking in Heir Apparent, and showed how too much fantasy (more like, expecting fantasy to fix your problems) can be dangerous. I had a few issues with the pacing and I thought Emily’s arc was resolved too fast, but overall, a wonderful book.

You can buy this book here: Deadly Pink

Coming Up Next: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

Heir Apparent: When You Play A Game Of Thrones You Win Or You Die (And Die And Die)

Heir Apparent is written by Vivian Vande Velde. It was published in 2002 by Harcourt. Vande Velde’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“In Heir Apparent there are as many ways to win as there are to get killed.

Giannine can testify to how many ways there are to die—it’s about all she’s been able to do since she started playing. Now all she has to do is get the magic ring, find the stolen treasure, answer the dwarf’s dumb riddles, come up with a poem for the head-chopping statue, cope with the army of ghosts, outmaneuver her half brothers, and defeat the man-eating dragon. If she can do all of that, why, she just might save her own life!”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

Wow, what an original concept here! A virtual reality fantasy? That’s awesome! Also, the fact that it’s like Groundhog Day? Double awesome! Add in a wonderful plot and wonderful character development, and we’ve got a winner here.

Giannine’s development was lovely to see, especially since I spent the first 50 pages or so wanting to yell at her because she was so stubborn and high-minded. Also because I figured out where the ring was right when it was mentioned, whereas Giannine ran around getting herself killed five or six times before she realizes anything. At the end, though, it’s very clear how much she has changed, at least in the fantasy. We didn’t see enough to see if it carried over into reality, but perhaps it will.

Cover Art

The plot was great, even if some parts of it were a little obvious (such as the dragon and the crown). Although, granted, at some point, plots have to become obvious since the author gives the character all the mechanics they need to solve the problem and the reader figures out what’s going to happen. That’s not necessarily obvious, but just the reader thinking ahead. I just really loved the virtual reality part of it, especially since I was expecting a straight-up fantasy when I first started reading it and then it’s talking about AI buses and I was like, “Wait, what?” Very nice spin on an old classic.

What I Didn’t Like:

The picketers? Really? Yes, there are people like that, but it didn’t have to be so…mocking. Especially since the other side was not given at all. Instead, the picketers were displayed as lunatics rather than people with decent reasons for doing what they’re doing.

The wonderful virtual reality aspect aside, I kept thinking of the great quote from Dumbledore: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” I also couldn’t help but notice that Giannine escapes from reality into a fantasy and then solves her problems in the fantasy. I have nothing against video games or whatever, to an extent (I can’t be, I play them myself), but I know that escaping from reality with the expectation that fantasy will solve all your problems is potentially dangerous and unhealthy.

Fan Art….? Possibly just a female knight, but still pretty cool!

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

My mind filled with details of memories I’d never had. The effect is like holding two pieces of tracing paper up to the light, one on top of the other: At first all you can see is a jumble, but as you concentrate on one drawing—or on one life, as the case may be—then suddenly you can make it out by ignoring the pieces that don’t fit.

So I ignored those parts that were Giannine Bellisario, eighth grader at St. John the Evangelist School. I ignored Rasmussem Enterprises and its overpriced computer that lets you see, hear, feel, taste, and—yes, thank you very much—smell a fantasy adventure in quarter-hour segments that seem to last for days.

I let myself become Janine de St. Jehan, sheepherder. Along with the identity came all sorts of snippets of information that I’d have known if I’d been born and raised in the village of St. Jehan.

~Vande Velde 13-14

Come on, I told myself. Surely I should be out of the maze by now, or back in the center.

And then I heard a sound behind me, a single footfall. Andreanna? Kenric?…Except I had the momentary impression of an animal. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the growl.

I didn’t have a chance to turn around. Something struck me hard on the back, knocking me face first to the ground. I cried out at the pain in my palms and knees—and at the back of my neck. I felt fizzy bubbles all over my skin. “No!” I screamed. Then I heard my foster mother call, “Janine! Janine, come back to the house.”

I pounded my fists on the ground. “I hate this! Hate this! Hate this!” I screamed.

Dusty licked my face to show me that she loved me.

~Vande Velde 57

Overall Review:

Heir Apparent has a fantastic, unique concept and a fast-paced plot that is quite refreshing compared to all the other standard fantasies out there. I had a little bit of a problem with the message that could be inferred from Giannine’s adventure, but overall, a wonderful book.

You can buy this book here: Heir Apparent

Coming Up Next: East by Edith Pattou