Ten familiar Western tales are buffed up, inventively recast, and infused with tenderness and warm good humor.
Opening with the parochial (her sources, characters, and settings seem to be exclusively Eurocentric) but lovely observation that fairy tales “are our living heritage, true fairy gold, except these stories do not disappear at sunset,” McKay begins with a tale in which, intercut with flashbacks, an older Rapunzel teaches her twin children about patience when they bring home a songbird that fearfully clings to its cage. A heart-rending version of “Rumpelstiltskin” featuring a lowly “hob” who aches for a child to love follows. Snow White artfully uses her own experiences to wean her granddaughter Sophie away from the notion that being prettiest of all is all that counts; peas and mattresses come into play when a newborn Prince Charming pulls the Dust-Gray Fairy’s nose. “Red Riding Hood” is stripped of its stranger-danger overtones and ends with a joyful wedding; in a clever bit of literary legerdemain, Gretel tells her tale with perfect coherence but back to front in a school report; and for the closer, an atmospheric retelling of the Grimms’ “Six Swans” proposes an answer to the powerful riddle: “If I have seven boys and a sister for each of them, how many children have I?” With rare exceptions—notably Gretel’s class picture, which features a lineup diverse in dress and skin tone—Gibb sticks to traditional white figures and antique or country garb in her frequent silhouettes and delicately detailed painted scenes.
Some dark doings, but far more charm and happy endings. (bibliography) (Fairy tales/short stories. 10-13)