Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

Shulman, Polly (2010). The Grimm Legacy. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 336 pages.

Have you ever wondered what became of Cinderella's slippers or Sleeping Beauty's spinning wheel? What about the Mirror on the Wall?  No? I suppose most of people don't spend their free time contemplating the locations of magical fairy items. Elizabeth has not considered these mysterious objects either; she is much too concerned with her new school, making new friends and dealing with her step-family. Yet when she writes a history paper about the Brothers Grimm, Elizabeth's social studies teacher not only gives her an “A” but recommends her for a position at the New York Circulating Material Repository. Part library, part museum, part secret society, the Repository is nine floors of antiques, textiles, tools...and the magical objects of the Grimm Collection. Just as Elizabeth is becoming more comfortable with the strangeness of her new job—the Repository is in possession of Marie Antoinette's wigs, Shakespearean doublets, and ancient Egyptian papyrus shoes—stories of missing items and a previous library page reach the curious ears of our narrator.

The description of the Grimm Collection, the library and the libraries history are original and fun. From the absurdities of the materials in the Repository to the  inclusion of call numbers for Cauldrons (I*GC 133.44 HC, I*GC 133.44 M33, and I*GC 133. 44 T47) the detail of this world touches upon the detailed world building in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.

So charming—in many ways—I have little criticism for such an engaging story. The main weakness of the book centers around the discovery of the villain responsible for the thefts and kidnappings who does not have enough face time to really impact his discovery and downfall. The story's centerpieces are the Repository and the character relationships; the plot is not secondary, but the villain's actions, motivations and clues leading up to his demise could be expanded for further depth. However with a climax that involves a large porcelain doll collection, a huge bird, a griffin, unlikely love, a villain and a homeless woman, the ending of this young novel does not disappoint (and you should be wondering about that doll collection). Sarah Beth Durst's “Into the Wild”, Michael Buckley's “The Sisters Grimm” and “Beauty” by Robin McKinley are other fairy tale adaptations that may intrigue you after you finish reading this enchanting novel.

In order to entice prospective readers, I would make a copy of the Curator's Test for Elizabeth's employment and present it to young readers. An example would be:

“A carpenter has three sons. The eldest builds a palace from alabaster and porphyry. The second builds a courthouse from granite and sandstone. The youngest builds a cottage from walnut shell and a corn husk. How man nails do the three sons use?
A. ∏
B. Infinity minus one
C. One too many
D. One too few” (pgs. 93-4)

Then I would ask young readers if they think they would be eligible to work in the Repository. Should be fun.


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