I just finished Chris Colfer’s first book in the Land of Stories series. I have been tripping over this series in my book searches for months and was looking forward to finally getting my hands on book one. Full disclosure, I was a big Glee fan when it was on, but when I first noticed this series I had no clue that Kurt had anything to do with it. Truth be told had I known I likely would have dismissed the whole series as the vanity project of a young celebrity.
But I love stories based in the old fairy tales. I’m not a fairy tale expert, but I’ve read all the biggies and have enjoyed many of the movie and book adaptations and, for lack of a better descriptive, fan fictions. It’s a ton of fun to see how a creative person takes a familiar story and plays with the script.
When I picked up Colfer’s book I knew it was young adult fiction and that he was an actor and a singer and maybe not a tested storyteller. I knew not to make comparisons with Gregory Maguire (I love Maguire’s work, especially Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister). I was ready to enjoy the book as a 4th grade teacher reading to make recommendations.
Well, I won’t be inviting my students to travel to the land of stories anytime soon. I own the first two books in the series now (though I read only the first) so I’ll put them in the classroom library, but I wasn’t captured by the story and I can’t think of a student in my room this year who would be. The book is too long for my struggling readers and too shallow for my strong readers. The story suffers from trying to include a character or element from all the tales and doesn’t go deeply into any of them. When one of the characters mentions knowing that in the “real” Little Mermaid Ariel doesn’t get her man it sounds more like showing off what the author thinks is obscure knowledge rather than making sure the reader has the facts she needs to understand a plot point. (The reader didn’t need the information.)
I don’t mean to be, well, mean. I have deep respect for anyone who puts it on the line and shares their writing with the world. I just wish Colfer’s celebrity hadn’t shielded him from good editing.
But this series won’t sour me on fairy tale retellings. I’m hooked and I love the opportunity the retellings give for my students to make comparisons, and to start telling their own versions. A much better choice, which I do need to sell on the class website, is Liesl Shurtliff’s Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. Or better yet, I should have my students read a few of the original tales. Some could put their gory video games to shame.