Oh, Into the Woods! I wanted so much to love you like everyone else did! And for the most part, I did. Except for those extra 150 pages at the end-if you weren’t so cumbersome and long, you would really be stunning!
I love a good children’s adventure fantasy. I also love the super-charged popularity of the fantasy genre, something that J. K. Rowling helped propel into the spotlight again. Unfortunately, the hype and the trendiness also allows books that aren’t incredible to creep in and tag along on the fame of the truly great fantasy books.
Storm and Aurora are the daughters of an absentminded professor and a wildly self-involved mother, who lies wasting in bed, suffering the aftereffects of the birth of the third daughter, Any. Before she dies, she leaves an unremarkable music pipe to Storm, and begs her to keep it safe.
Storm, ignoring her practical sister’s warnings, wanders off into the deep woods surrounding their house one day, and stumbles into a town meeting. The town is overrun with rats, and Dr. DeWilde shows up, a modern Pied Piper. Who has the pipe, though? Oh, right. Storm. Dr. DeWilde sends his horrifying and gore-hungry wolves after the girls, and a long, looooooong adventure commences.
One of the highlights is Bee Bumble, a granny-cum-organized criminal, whose only mission is to live in her gingerbread house and bake sedative-laced treats for fattening up Dr. DeWilde’s orphan slaves. In a plot twist that also showed up in The Secret of Zoom, Dr. DeWilde needs a chunky bunch of orphans to work in his gemstone mines. I’m not crying plagiarism here; I am merely saying that when one draws too heavily on fairy tales, the resulting story can end up being rather redundant, or in this case, rather too popular. We’ve done the starving-miserable-orphan-slave thing before, maybe one too many times.
Anyway, Storm’s sisters end up in the mines with Dr. DeWilde and she must (again, sounds like The Secret of Zoom) perform a daring rescue. Follow with a predictable, but pleasant ending. And fireworks. I liked the fireworks bit.
I’m not saying it’s a bad book. There were a lot of great parts, and I loved the sassy character of Storm and all the growing-up she does. The sisterly love is not trite or overdone, but touching. The book is just too long. In her effort to reference as many fairy tales as possible, perhaps Lyn Gardner overreaches a little.
The illustrations were fantastic. Mini Grey interprets the story beautifully, and her illustrations kept me turning the pages. I couldn’t find any images from the book, but here is an example of her work:
I feel like I should mention that this book was very well-received. Please don’t take my word for it!
Gardner, Lyn. Into The Woods. David Fickling Books: New York. (2007): 488 pp. Ages 9-12.