________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 3. . . .September 17, 2010


Terrible Tales: The Absolutely, Positively, 100 Percent TRUE Stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Those Three Greedy Pigs, Hairy Rapunzel, and the Utterly Horrible Brats, Hansel and Gretel as Told at the Beginning of Time.

Felicitatus Miserius. [Pseud. of Jennifer Gordon.] Illustrated by Shirley Chiang.
Bloomingham, IN: iUniverse (www.iuniverse.com), 2009.
90 pp., pbk., $10.00 (USD).
ISBN 978-1-4401-4209-3.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Emily Sobool.

**½ /4



Once upon a time, when goblins and witches and fairy godmothers still roamed the earth openly, there lived a beautiful girl named Cinderella. As many accounts of Cinderella's life would have it, this young girl was a lovely and kind and good as she was pretty.

This, I'm sad to say, is a colossal, shamefaced lie.

Cinderella was, in fact, one of the meanest, wickedest girls who ever walked the face of the earth.

Terrible Tales is a collection of five short stories that take the form of fractured fairy tales. In Sir Jasper Gowlings’ Foreword and Backword, we learn that an ancient leather-bound book containing the terrible tales was forced upon him by Felicitatus Miserius with instructions to share them and their teachings with the world. Gowlings and Miserius serve as fictional pseudonyms for the book's actual author, Jennifer Gordon. This is the first book she has written, and, in a fun, irreverent way, it effectively conveys valuable messages to the reader regarding self-esteem, compassion and the recipe for true happiness. Gordon's voice as a storyteller is a joy to read thanks to her conversational tone, and the stories practically beg to be read aloud. While Terrible Tales is primarily being marketed to the 9-12 age range, the stories will appeal to children as young as seven, and the book also manages to appeal to adult readers familiar with the original fairy tales as well.

internal art     Each of the five terrible tales presents a well-known fairy tale and then flips it around so that once beloved characters become greedy, wicked villains, while the characters we once considered evil become sympathetic characters imbued with traits such as generosity and compassion. This reversal illustrates Gordon's problematization of the message found in traditional fairy tales in which the majority of "good" characters were those who were physically beautiful, while unattractive traits were associated with nasty personalities. In the fairy tale world of Terrible Tales, those fortunate to have beauty and wealth are thus portrayed in the vilest of terms, and so, for the first time, we meet the "absolutely, positively, 100 percent" true nature of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel - and through their adventures, come to understand the real secret to living happily ever after.

      At the end of each tale, the wicked characters receive the comeuppance that they deserve, which is satisfying to read, and each story ends with a humorous rhyming couplet that sums up the theme. For example, "Cinderella" ends with "If your head is something you'd like to keep, / make sure you're not a vain, mean creep." Rounding out the text is a full-page black and white illustration by Shirley Chiang, which highlights a memorable image from the tale in a style that is playful and highly expressive.

      Gordon and her characters, Sir Jasper Gowlings and Felicitatus Miserius, have created a fun, fast read that appeals to a wide range of audiences, and fans of the book will be pleased to know that Gordon has a sequel in the works. This charming re-imagining of the true nature of some of the most renowned fairy tale characters is definitely recommended; however, it should be noted that Terrible Tales is not without its flaws. A couple of the stories suffer from plot elements that are illogical and break the flow of the narrative, and the use of over-the-top gluttony in almost every tale starts to become repetitive. In addition, while the lessons within the stories are certainly valuable, some readers may find the book to be overly morally didactic.


Emily Sobool is a librarian in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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