Archive for the ‘Fairy Tale Variant’ Category

Review of Brave Red, Smart Frog, by Emily Jenkins

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Brave Red, Smart Frog

A New Book of Old Tales

by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason

Candlewick Press, 2017. 94 pages.
Starred Review

I have always loved fairy tales. My grandma owned several of the various-colored fairy tale books by Andrew Lang, and I remember sitting in her big comfy chair and reading them when I was quite young.

This is a 2017 book, but our library purchased it in 2018. When my hold came in, I saw the copyright and was going to turn it right back in – I’m reading for the Newbery, and I don’t have time for anything else. However, intrigued by the title and the look of the book, I opened to a random page. The tone and spirit of the tales captivated me quickly. I brought them home, figuring that reading one little story each day wouldn’t hurt anything.

And I really did get it read that way (which is surprising right there). At the end I cheated a little and read two stories in one night.

These are mostly Grimm tales, and I’m very familiar with all of them – but I love these fresh retellings. I like the new names she gives to characters, the explanations of their motivations, and that frozen and cold forest that shows up in almost all the tales. There’s even a place where a character in one story shows up in another! (Hint: There’s a huntsman in both “Snow White” and “Red Riding Hood.”)

Here’s an example paragraph right at the start that gives you the friendly and refreshing tone used throughout the book:

On one side of this frozen forest stood a castle. In it lived a queen who was unhappy. She was a warm person, a bright person. Her husband was chilly and dull. It had been a mistake to marry him. When their first and only daughter was born, the king named the baby Snow White. The queen would have preferred a name like Tulip or Sunshine.

An Author’s Note at the back gives her philosophy of retelling these stories. She wasn’t trying to be accurate to originals or entirely reinvent the tales.

What I’m doing instead is telling these stories largely faithfully, but without adhering to versions made famous by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and others. I wrote them simply as I myself want to tell them, using the storytelling techniques I have at my disposal. After all, before people began writing them down, these tales were passed down orally. They changed a bit with each new teller. I wrote to bring out what’s most meaningful to me in the stories, and in that way I believe I am part of a tradition that goes back to the earliest tellers of these tales.

The result is delightful. These would be fun to read aloud at bedtime to a child or after lunch to a classroom.

Now, some kisses break enchantments.

And other kisses begin them.

You’re going to find both kinds of kisses in these tales.

candlewick.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Door by the Staircase, by Katherine Marsh

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

The Door by the Staircase

by Katherine Marsh

Disney Hyperion, 2016. 272 pages.

Mary Hayes is a resourceful little girl who lives in an orphanage. One night, she manages to escape – but is stopped by a moving whirlwind. The very next morning, an old lady, Madame Z, comes to adopt Mary, first confirming that she has no family at all.

Madame Z takes Mary to a home outside the town of Iris, where all sorts of two-bit magic users live. She meets Jacob, a kid her age who also longs for a home. Jacob is the son of an Illusionist, and they move around a lot. Jacob’s good at pointing out how magicians do their tricks.

Then Mary thinks she’s spotted some real magic. And Madame Z turns out not to be the sweet old lady she pretends to be.

This book reminded me a little too much of Baba Yaga’s Assistant — but I liked the graphic novel a little better, for its conciseness and charm. Still, this book works in more elements of Russian folklore – including the firebird, rusalkas, and a domovoi.

Mary and Jacob must navigate various magical perils and prizes in order to escape a dangerous magical villain and win homes for themselves.

This is a light-hearted magical tale mixed with Russian folklore and cooking, and an orphan longing for a home.

katherinemarsh.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of While Beauty Slept, by Elizabeth Blackwell

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

While Beauty Slept

by Elizabeth Blackwell

Berkley Books, 2014. 456 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve meant to read this book for a very long time, especially once I had a signed copy. But I have a horrible problem with not getting around to reading books I own because they don’t have a due date. Anyway, I finally got this book read on a flight home from Portland – and I’m so glad I did.

I’ve always loved fairy tale retellings. This is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. But usually such retellings are Fantasy. This one takes out the overt magic. There is a possibility of a curse; there is a possibility that the baby’s great-aunt does dark magic. But the story is told as historical fiction, set in medieval times, as something that could have actually happened. (Except that the kingdoms mentioned are still not actual kingdoms from our world, so technically, I’ll have to classify it as Fantasy. But the flavor is Historical.)

Our narrator is an old servant of Queen Lenore, the mother of Rose who became the Sleeping Beauty of the fairy tale. She saw all the events of the tale from start to finish. She’s looking back on her life and telling the story to her great-grandchild.

In the prologue, she’s hears children telling the fairy tale based on the experiences she lived.

Ha! It would be a fine trick indeed to fell a royal daughter with a needle, then see her revived by a single kiss. If such magic exists, I have yet to witness it. The horror of what really happened has been lost, and no wonder. The truth is hardly a story for children.

I was afraid with that line that the book would be too dark for my taste – but the story is beautiful. Yes, there are dark and tragic parts, but it’s woven through with love and with actual human passions and mistakes and foibles.

In the fifty years since those terrible days in the tower, I have never spoken of what happened there. But with my body failing and death in my sights, I have been plagued by memories, rushing in unbidden, provoking waves of longing for what once was. Perhaps that is why I remain on this earth, the only person who knew Rose when she was young and untouched by tragedy. The only one who watched it all unfold, from the curse to the final kiss.

During the course of the tale our narrator, Elise, grows from a child in poverty into a mature adult, living in the castle. She gains perspective and makes hard choices and becomes a guide for young Rose through difficult times. I think that’s why this isn’t a young adult novel. This isn’t a coming-of-age story, but a story of a life lived beside large events, events that affected a kingdom. It’s about love and about choices and about making your way in the world.

And I especially liked the ending.

This is a beautiful book, which I know I’m going to want to read again sometime in the future.

elizabethblackwellbooks.com
penguin.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, which I got at an ALA conference and had signed by the author.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Winter, by Marissa Meyer

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

winter_largeWinter

The Lunar Chronicles, Book Four

by Marissa Meyer

Feiwel and Friends, 2015. 827 pages.

Ah! The Lunar Chronicles come to a satisfying end in this book. If you have read this far, I don’t have to say anything to get you to read the final volume, so let me make some comments about the series in general.

What I loved most was the fairy tale parallels. Cinder paralleled “Cinderella,” Scarlet paralleled “Little Red Riding Hood,” Cress paralleled “Rapunzel,” and this final book, Winter, parallels “Snow White.” However, all the characters from each of the previous books are still in the story – and by the final book, elements from Snow White’s story seemed forced. (Whereas in Cinder they arrived in natural and clever ways.) In particular, the part about the poisoned apple seemed totally unnecessary in the overall scheme, and I didn’t really believe that a disease would progress the way this one was portrayed.

But I do like the character of Winter, and even her status as Queen Levana’s stepdaughter worked well. I do like that each of the main characters is very different from the others.

I still didn’t really believe in the wolf-human hybrids, which has been a problem for me since Scarlet. I didn’t particularly like the additional information we got about that in this book – didn’t make it easier to believe.

At first when I opened this book, I thought, okay, we’ve got four couples. Two have matched up with the one they love but have some obstacles between them. Two are in love but haven’t admitted it to each other yet. And I knew all four would get together by the end of the book, and I thought that was a bit much. But I have to hand it to Marissa Meyers – she kept each romance distinct and interesting. All four plotlines are definitely not simple!

In fact, if anything the plot was a bit too convoluted with all those characters to juggle. But that did keep things from being at all boring or predictable and kept you turning pages. She is one of those authors who gives you a lot of interior monologue – which means it takes a little longer for actions to happen. This book is more than 800 pages long, since that’s what it took to tie everything together. In some spots, we were following three different sets of characters in different places, so that slowed things down, too.

However, all that said – in this book pulling all the threads together, Marissa Meyer accomplishes a well-earned Happily Ever After. Though I was able to put down the book and go to sleep, I was never even slightly tempted to set it aside altogether, and I began reading the same day my hold arrived. We’ve got life and death situations and the fate of earth at stake. We’ve got an intrepid band of rebels who go deep into the tyrant’s territory. Can they win the day?

marissameyer.com
thelunarchronicles.com
macteenbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

sleeper_and_the_spindle_largeThe Sleeper and the Spindle

by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Chris Riddell

Harper, 2015. 69 pages.
Starred Review

This is an illustrated fairy tale. And how much do I love that an illustrated fairy tale has been published?

This story is beautiful and eerie at the same time. It feels familiar, but twists things in unexpected ways.

The reader thinks they’ve got a Sleeping Beauty story going, or perhaps Sleeping Beauty twisted with Snow White, but nothing turns out as the reader expects.

The book starts out with some dwarves going under some mountains to get finest silk for their queen, who is soon to be married. On the other side of the mountains, they find an enchanted sleep spreading. It is spreading out from a castle with a princess who was cursed, as in the traditional tale, and has been sleeping for years. But now it’s not only the servants in the castle who are sleeping as well. The sleep is spreading to all the surrounding villages.

The tale first starts going in unexpected directions when the queen decides to go break the spell.

“I am afraid,” said the queen, “that there will be no wedding tomorrow.”

She called for a map of the kingdom, identified the villages closest to the mountains, sent messengers to tell the inhabitants to evacuate to the coast or risk royal displeasure.

She called for her first minister and informed him that he would be responsible for the kingdom in her absence, and that he should do his best neither to lose it nor to break it.

She called for her fiancé and told him not to take on so, and that they would still be married, even if he was but a prince and she a queen, and she chucked him beneath his pretty chin and kissed him until he smiled.

She called for her mail shirt.

She called for her sword.

She called for her provisions, and for her horse, and then she rode out of the palace, toward the east.

Neil Gaiman knows the language of fairy tales. But he also knows how to surprise the reader.

The illustrations are also wonderful. Looking at them a second time, I’m finding new details everywhere. They are black and white with gold highlights, and extremely detailed.

There’s a place where hundreds of sleeping people, completely covered with cobwebs, start sleepwalking toward the queen. The illustrations here are incredibly sinister.

The story doesn’t take long to read, and every spread has illustrations, but this is not a picture book, nor is it written for preschoolers.

Here’s the scene where villagers tell the dwarves about the plague of sleep:

“. . . And brave men,” continued the pot-girl. “Aye, and brave women too, they say, have attempted to travel to the Forest of Acaire, to the castle at its heart, to wake the princess, and, in waking her, to wake all the sleepers, but each and every one of those heroes ended their lives lost in the forest, murdered by bandits, or impaled upon the thorns of the rosebushes that encircle the castle –“

“Wake her how?” asked the middle-sized dwarf, hand still clutching his rock, for he thought in essentials.

“The usual method,” said the pot-girl, and she blushed. “Or so the tales have it.”

“Right,” said the tallest dwarf. “So, bowl of cold water poured on the face and a cry of ‘Wakey! Wakey!’?”

“A kiss,” said the sot. “But nobody has ever got that close. They’ve been trying for sixty years or more. They say the witch –“

“Fairy,” said the fat man.

“Enchantress,” corrected the pot-girl.

“Whatever she is,” said the sot. “She’s still there. That’s what they say. If you get that close. If you make it through the roses, she’ll be waiting for you. She’s old as the hills, evil as a snake, all malevolence and magic and death.”

mousecircus.com
chrisriddell.co.uk

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Sky Is Falling! by Mark Teague

Friday, August 28th, 2015

sky_is_falling_largeThe Sky Is Falling!

by Mark Teague

Orchard Books (Scholastic), New York, 2015. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This book cracked me up. It’s very much in the same style as The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf, by the same author.

The book contains a twisted retelling of Chicken Little’s story. Or perhaps I should say a more logical telling of Chicken Little’s story. Kids who are familiar with the traditional tale will appreciate the changes in this one.

And look! The third time through the story, I noticed for the first time a detail on the first page that adds impact to how the story turns out. This is a book that rewards close attention.

The story starts the common way:

One day an acorn hit Chicken Little on the head.

She popped up, screeching,
“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

The difference is apparent right away:

”I don’t think so,” said Squirrel.
Squirrel knew a thing or two about acorns.
“See, it fell from a tree.”

But Chicken Little doesn’t pay attention to squirrel.

Soon, all the chickens were in a tizzy.
Chickens are like that.

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
they cried.

They danced around the yard,
flapping their wings.

But in this version, the birds don’t go to tell the king – they start a dance that infects all the animals in the barnyard!

Fox is up to his same tricks, however. If the sky is falling, he thinks everyone should hide in his den.

I love the chicken logic on this page:

”But why aren’t you dancing?” asked Chicken Little.

Fox began to feel annoyed. “Because it makes no sense!”

“Everyone dances when the sky is falling,”
Chicken Little explained. “Look!”

I will simply say about this tale that the fox does get an appropriate comeuppance.

The pictures of the animals dancing their hearts out definitely make it worth your while to pick this book up.

A very silly story which is ever so much fun.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Hansel & Gretel, by Neil Gaiman

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

hansel_and_gretel_largeHansel & Gretel

by Neil Gaiman

art by Lorenzo Mattotti

Toon Graphics, 2014. 53 pages.
Starred Review

This book is put out by a publisher of graphic novels and is in the size of a large graphic novel. But there are no speech bubbles here. What you do have are large double-page spreads of black-and-white (mostly black) very dark paintings alternating with double-page spreads of text.

The pictures are dark and sinister, and the story is dark and sinister. Like all fairy tales, it has power. The word painting of Neil Gaiman combined with the art of Lorenzo Mattotti gives this familiar tale new impact.

Here’s the paragraph after the old woman invites Hansel and Gretel into her house:

There was only one room in the little house, with a huge brick oven at one end, and a table laden with all good things: with candied fruits, with cakes and pies and cookies, with breads and with biscuits. There was no meat, though, and the old woman apologized, explaining that she was old, and her eyes were not what they had been when she was young, and she was no longer up to catching the beasts of the forests, as once she had been. Now, she told the children, she baited her snare and she waited, and often no game would come to her trap from one year to another, and what she did catch was too scrawny to eat and needed to be fattened up first.

This story is far too sinister for the very young. Those who read this story will be confronted with evil — and children who triumph over it.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Cress, by Marissa Meyer

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Cress

The Lunar Chronicles, Book Three

by Marissa Meyer

Feiwel and Friends, New York, 2014. 552 pages.
Starred Review

Cress continues the Lunar Chronicles, begun in Cinder, and continued in Scarlet. All of the books play off a fairy tale, in a science fiction setting, but the story they tell is something wholly new. All of the books do feature a romance for our heroine, and each of those romances is totally different from the others.

I completely loved Cinder, but wasn’t as enthusiastic about Scarlet. I didn’t really buy the creation of wolf-human hybrids, or if they exist that Scarlet would fall in love with one. Cress gets back to the rest of the story, so I again loved this volume.

In case you don’t get the reference, Cress is a version of “Rapunzel,” since that’s essentially what the German word means. Never mind that in this case, “Cress” is short for “Crescent Moon.” Instead of a tower, Cress is imprisoned in a satellite. She’s good at hacking, so she tracks all the Earthen news feeds for the Lunar Queen, and enables them to hide the Lunar ships.

Cress has been ordered to track down Cinder and Thorne, who now have Scarlet and Wolf along with them. But instead of giving them up to the Lunars, she contacts them and convinces them to rescue her. But then the witch — actually, the mind-controlling thaumaturge — returns unexpectedly, and the rescue doesn’t go as planned, separating the team into different groups.

Cress and Thorne are thrown together, trying to survive in the desert. Meanwhile, Cinder needs to make plans. Above all, she needs to stop the wedding of Queen Levana to Emperor Kai.

Marissa Meyer is skilled at keeping us interested in several different plot threads at the same time. She keeps the sections short, but they’re equally packed with action, so we’re never annoyed with her for what she left behind.

Cress is quite different from our earlier two heroines. She’s naïve and given to daydreams, which makes sense for a girl imprisoned in a satellite. Yes, she has long hair. The thaumaturge didn’t allow sharp objects on the satellite. She’s short, and she’s a shell with no mind-control powers, so you might think she wouldn’t help their mission. But her detailed knowledge of Lunar cyberwarfare is exactly what they need.

This book works as a book in a quartet should — it’s got a wonderfully satisfying story on its own, with a beginning, middle, and end. But there’s definitely a bigger story still going on, and Queen Levana still threatens Earth at the end of this book. The next book, Winter, is promised “soon,” and I can hardly wait!

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends, by Shannon Hale

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Ever After High

The Storybook of Legends

by Shannon Hale

Little, Brown and Company, 2013. 305 pages.

I love Shannon Hale’s writing. So when I learned she’d written a book starting a series designed to go along with dolls made by Mattel, I had to at least try it. I also love fairy tale variants, and this series is set up to play off of fairy tales.

This book is fun, but I couldn’t really buy the premise at all. And to be fair, I’m guessing that pretty much everything I didn’t like was probably not Shannon Hale’s idea, but the framework in which she was asked to write. When I judged for the Cybils last year, I learned that in Fantasy novels, I’m a big stickler for internal logic. Could such a world exist? The premise of Ever After High stretches credibility a bit too far for me.

The idea is that in the world of Ever After, the children of storybook characters are destined to live out their parents’ stories. In fact, on Legacy Day, second year students at Ever After High have a big ceremony and sign the Storybook of Legends in order to embrace their Destiny.

It’s a cute premise, and the idea is that this has been going on for generations and generations. If a character doesn’t sign, they are told their story will disappear, and so will they. But, come on – what if the storybook characters don’t have children, or don’t have them the right gender for the story, or have them at totally different ages from the other characters in the story? It seems like there’d have to be an awful lot of coincidence for this to work.

Anyway, in our story, we’re focusing on Apple White, daughter of Snow White, destined for Happily Ever After, and Raven Queen, daughter of the Evil Queen. Raven is not at all happy about being destined to be evil. What will happen if she doesn’t sign the Storybook of Legends? There are rumors of a student who once upon a time didn’t do that. Did she survive and live happily elsewhere? Or did she indeed go poof? Apple, however, is determined to make sure that Raven embraces her destiny – that’s the only way Apple will get her Happy Ever After.

I think my favorite character in this book was Maddie, the Mad Hatter’s daughter, who can do impossible things. Some other fun ones are Cedar Wood, Pinocchio’s daughter, and Briar Beauty, who falls asleep often but has a great fashion sense. Dexter Charming, younger brother of Daring Charming, was a nice contrast to his brother.

It seemed kind of silly the way certain words were changed, fairly randomly. They used “hexcellent” instead of “excellent” and “fairy” instead of “very,” for example, even though the change didn’t really make any sense, but just made it sound more related to magic. I also noticed that certain outfits were described in tremendous detail – I’m thinking because the outfits are being sold along with the dolls.

But as I said, most of the things I didn’t like were probably set up by Mattel, not the author. She did have a lot of fun within the premise. As you can imagine, there’s a strong message of making your own choices.

It will be interesting to see where they go from here.

everafterhigh.com
squeetus.com
lb-kids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf, by Mark Teague

Friday, August 30th, 2013

The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf

by Mark Teague

Orchard Books, New York, 2013. 40 pages.
Starred Review

What is it about Three Little Pigs adjustments? Like The Three Pigs, The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot, and The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, this book simply makes me laugh.

The story isn’t much different from the traditional one. Instead of being sent off by their mother, the three pigs are let go because the farmer and his wife move to Florida.

From there, things progress as expected. The commentary along the way is the hilarious part. The first and second pig love potato chips and sody-pop, respectively. The Somewhat Bad Wolf succeeds in blowing down their houses, saying, “I can’t believe that worked!” The wolf is so surprised, the pigs have time to escape to their sister’s fine brick house.

The pictures are fabulous. I especially love the one where the wolf is collapsed on the lawn after trying to blow down the brick house. It’s no wonder the pigs take pity on him!

scholastic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.