This fantasy novel is the first book in "The Sisters Grimm" series by Michael Buckley and is published by Amulet Books.
The Fairy-Tale Detectives is written for kids, ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Orphans Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are sent to live with their eccentric grandmother, who they thought was dead, in Ferryport Landing, N.Y. Eleven-year-old Sabrina thinks the tiny town is strange and boring, especially after living in New York City. Seven-year-old Daphne is guileless and possesses a tremendous sense of adventure. She immediately hits it off with Granny Relda and Mr. Canis, the tall, skinny old man who is Granny's caretaker. The sisters were mistreated in foster homes during the previous 18 months, and Sabrina, who is jaded from the experience, is at first unwilling to trust Granny Relda — or even believe she is their grandmother.
The girls are fascinated with Granny Relda's quirky house in the woods. They soon learn that half the inhabitants of the tiny town are Everafters, or characters from classic children's fairy tales and stories, such as Snow White, Prince Charming, the three pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. The Everafters can change into human form. The girls meet Puck, the Trickster King or Prince of the Fairies, whom their grandma has adopted as her own son.
Because of a spell placed on Ferryport Landing years previously by a witch and the girls' great-great-great-great-grandfather, who was one of the famous Brothers Grimm, the immortal Everafters cannot leave the town as long as a member of the Grimm family is alive. This, of course, makes most of the Everafters antagonistic toward the Grimms, although they harbor a certain amount of respect for them due to the role as peacemakers that the Grimms play in the community.
Along with their grandmother, the girls solve a mystery involving a giant who is running loose in the town and creating havoc. Their investigations first lead them to believe that Mayor (Prince) Charming has lured the giant to Ferryport Landing to help him carry out his plan to stockpile property in an attempt to rebuild his kingdom. However, they learn that it was Jack (of beanstalk fame), who made it possible for the giant to climb down a beanstalk. He wanted to kill it, regain his fame and then expose the truth about the town to the outside world. With help from Mr. Canis, who is the Big Bad Wolf, and Puck, the Grimms thwart Jack's plan.
Ms. Smirt, the girls' social worker, perfectly fits the negative stereotype of the institutional, uncaring, government supervisor. She seems to hate children and does everything within her power to discourage the girls. Granny Relda, on the other hand, is everything a child would want in a grandmother: loving, kind, fun, full of adventure, a great cook and fiercely loyal.
Other belief systems
The Everafters are immortal and are able to perform magic. Ichabod Crane states that he has seen the Devil.
Characters — both adults and children — occasionally call each other names, such as idiot or stinky freak.
Ms. Smirt is known for pinching kids and leaving them with purple bruises. During their first night at Granny Relda's, a swarm of flying pixies attacks the girls, biting them and leaving their hands and ears and noses covered in blood.
Three thugs assault the girls, their grandmother and Mr. Canis. Daphne kicks one of them in the shin, and Granny Relda hits one on the head with her book-filled bag. Mr. Canis grabs two of the men by the throat and lifts them off the ground before throwing them across the concrete ground where they bump and bounce along the pavement.
Puck captures Sabrina, ties her hands behind her back and threatens to push her off a diving board by thrusting a sword in her back. He later claims it was all a joke. The girls read journal stories about giants who ate people. A giant wreaks havoc as he chases the girls and Puck through the town while they ride on Aladdin's magic carpet.
The girls obtain Dorothy's slippers (The Wizard of Oz) from the Man in the Mirror, and he tells them to be careful because there are people who would slit their throats to get them. Three witches attack the giant, firing lightning from their wands, which results in charred black smears on his face. The giant roars in pain.
The girls' dog, Elvis, is wounded, and they find him lying in a puddle of blood. In an intense scene, the giant chases the girls, while Jack is simultaneously shooting at them with arrows. Sabrina kills the giant with the sword Excalibur. Jack and the Big Bad Wolf fight to the death. Jack seems to be winning until Puck commands his swarm of pixies to attack Jack. They sting him until blood leaks out of his body. The specter of death permeates the story, even if the characters seem to be joking about it part of the time.
There is one instance of mild sensuality: Sabrina's heart races when she first meets Prince Charming because he is the best-looking man she has ever seen.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why is Sabrina distrustful of everyone, including Granny Relda?
What changes her mind?
Tell about a person you did not trust.
Was your distrust appropriate, or how was it changed to trust?
- Puck has learned to look out for himself because everyone else disappoints him.
Who has disappointed you?
How do Sabrina and Puck change by the end of the story?
How have you learned to overcome your disappointment in someone?
- How does Daphne's trusting, carefree attitude ultimately affect Sabrina?
How does your attitude affect others around you?
Sabrina and Daphne do not feel a family is necessary in their lives.
How does Granny's attention to them affect them?
How do they regain their trust in family by being with Granny Relda?
How does our family influence others in good ways?
Alcohol: During a fundraising ball at the Mayor Charming's mansion, adults, animals and monsters mingle and drink champagne.
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