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Review of The Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales

tan_singing-bonesThe Singing Bones: Inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales
by Shaun Tan; abridged and adapted from translations of Grimms’ fairy tales by Jack Zipes; sculptures and photos by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Levine/Scholastic    
186 pp.
10/16    978-0-545-94612-4    $24.99    g

In the hands of creative teachers, librarians, and parents, this book-lover’s book will find its way to a broad age range of kids through riveting art and tantalizing story-bites. Each of seventy-five double-page spreads comprises, on the verso, a quote from one of the Grimms’ tales as translated by Zipes (who also writes an accessible introduction to this work). On the recto facing the text is a full-page photograph by Tan of a sculpture he has created to power-drive the story. Neil Gaiman’s foreword provides eloquent commentary on the minimalist art, which is akin to folktale structure in its spare composition. Opposite the famous dialogue in “Little Red Cap,” for instance (“Oh, Grandmother, what big ears you have!”), rises a legless figure whose sharp nose, slitted eyes, and long ears all turn suggestively toward the small rounded figure standing on its back. She’s the same height as the creature’s vertically lifted, knife-like tail, and all that defines her is a scarlet parka hood and a pair of helplessly folded hands. Show this to viewers, read the quote aloud, and then have them create their own image; or suggest some Grimms’ tales to read for selecting 
and illustrating quotes, a stimulating way to focus on both verbal and 
visual language. The artist’s personal afterword and note on his medium and process, inspired by and stylistically reflective of “Inuit stone carvings and pre-Columbian clay figurines,” along with some suggestions for further reading, complete this thoughtful compendium.

From the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betsy Hearne About Betsy Hearne

Betsy Hearne is a professor emerita and former director of the Center for Children’s Books at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

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