Allison's Book Bag

The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley

Posted on: March 6, 2011

I love fairy tales! Any wonder that when I spied The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley at my local library, I had to borrow it. The book is the first in a series called The Sisters Grimm. With there being six more books in the set, I’d have my reading set for a month. Unfortunately, my love of fairy tales is what left me less than happy with this book.

The book’s first chapter reminded of the popular The Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket, both in set up and tone. The Grimms’ sisters are orphans and their parents have either disappeared or been murdered  basically, they are out of the picture. Naturally, this makes the girls sad. There are two of them: Sabrina who is twelve and Daphne who is seven. Sabrina actually acts more angry than sad, thus fitting the cliché of adopted children who run away from every foster parent. As for her younger sister Daphne, she inquires about the meaning of words and so readers learn new words.

From this point onward, the story diverges from The Unfortunate Events series, in that it is about a fairy tale community. Like stereotyped orphaned siblings, the two have been bonded closer together due to their having only each other. Sabrina is especially protective, rejecting the arrival of yet another foster parent, even when Daphne accepts that this newest is really their grandmother. Moreover, the family is distant relations of the famous Grimm brothers and are citizens of Ferryport Landing, which is home to many of our beloved fairy tale characters.

Initially, I waffled in my reaction to The Fairy Tale Detectives. Details or the lack of can make or break a story. Michael Buckley effectively uses enough of them to enrich his book. The passage about how Sabrina rushed home with a “report card safely tucked in her raincoat” moved me. Elsewhere are also scattered other details such as “a small frog jumped from his shirt” and “a delivery truck filled with chickens” that work equally well in visualizing the scene.

In the midst of these details however were suspense scenes that I often skimmed because they were confusing to reading. They reminded me of the madcap action scenes in movies that are thrown at viewers left and right, whether or not any of them makes sense. The attacks were difficult to follow, involved heroines who kept screaming and running, along with other characters who switched from being bad to good without reason. These scenes were painful to me, which is not what one wants in an escapism book.

Quirkiness or lack of can liven or deaden a story. Therefore, I appreciated the oddball foster parents: Mrs. Longdon who swore her toilet was haunted, Mr. Dennison who made the girls sleep in his truck, the Johnsons who handcuffed them to his radiator, and the Keatons who locked the girls in their house for two weeks to go on vacation. I also enjoyed reading about all the weird foods the girls’ grandmother cooked for them including black noodles made out of squid ink and the meatballs with purple gravy. At times though, the quirkiness seemed overdone such as car with rope for seatbelts or the clothes that everyone except the girls’ new guardian considered strange. What however is so odd about orange sweatshirts decorated with monkeys or blue pants designed with hearts and balloons?

Series for social welfare 1959, fairy tale of ...

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Michael Buckley seems to know and admire fairy tales. In the back of The Fairy Tale Detectives are several pages about the real fairy tales, the real Grimm brothers, and even a fun quiz to test one’s knowledge. Throughout the book itself, he also included references to titles of made up historical books, along with appearances of popular fairy tale characters, and even usage of fairy tale tools such as the beans that grow beanstalks for giants, Aladdin’s magic carpet, the magic mirror from Snow White, King Arthur’s enchanted sword, and the fairy godmother’s magical wand.

The problem though with writing about beloved fairy tale characters is that some of us want to hear only one truth about them, the one that we grew up reading about all our lives. Who wants our cherished childhood toys to turn evil? Or our favorite storybook characters such as Dorothy, Doctor Doolittle, or Charlotte to act anything but nice? Not me! For that reason, I felt upset that Buckley turned Jack the Giant Killer and Prince Charming into despicable individuals. On the flip side, who wants our hated villains to turn evil? Do we want the Wicked Witch or Captain Hook acting sweet? For that reason, I also felt upset about some of the evil characters from fairy tales that Buckley chose to convert.

I wish I could recommend The Fairy Tale Detectives. It is entertaining and fairly well written. For awhile, I even felt tempted to read the rest of the series. Yet I have never cared for movies that substantially rewrite a book when bringing to the big screen. And I dislike just as much having my favorite fairy tale characters being portrayed as differently than in the original stories. Furthermore, I wouldn’t want this book to be the first introduction one has to fairy tale characters. So, should you choose to read this series, please proceed with caution.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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1 Response to "The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley"

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