Too Darn Cute

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Sisters Grimm #1

The Sisters Grimm #1: The Fairy-Tale Detectives
Written by Michael Buckley
Ages: 8-12

The first book in a series of nine (so far), this story features heroines Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, the descendants of the legendary Brothers Grimm. When the orphaned girls move in with the grandmother they thought was dead, they not only find out about their famous ancestors, they also learn that the Grimm’s fairy tales were actually history books! Trying to navigate in a magical world filled with all the characters from their favorite stories, the girls must become detectives in order to solve the mystery of the giant that kidnapped their Granny.

This is a great idea for a series. I love that the characters are from fairy tales, nursery rhymes, The Wizard of Oz, and even Shakespeare. I never knew who would show up next!  Set in modern New York, it was fun to see how the characters have adapted and changed to live in the present. Some have grown up and gotten married and most have full-time jobs. It was a fun read and I had several ideas while reading for how to use it with a class. The biggest critique I have for it is that it was written in a very cartoony way, often making it feel excessively juvenile. I firmly believe that great children’s books don’t have to feel childish. Nevertheless, I believe most students would be very engaged by this story and would enjoy some of the following activities to expand their reading experience.

Jack plays a big role in this story

Reading: This a great book to exemplify the elements in a story. The characters, setting, goal, problem, and solution are fairly straight forward and would be fun to discuss with a class. Especially the characters! Students will recognize most of the characters in the story and would easily be able to make connections with other books and movies. Because of the many references to fairy tales, it would also be a great one to use while exploring the genre of fairy tales and the comment elements and themes in them (such as magic, good vs. evil, quest, and happy endings). Since it is a mystery as well, the book could help classes learn about similarities between books in this genre.

I feel like the reading strategy of visualizing is the easiest to teach, possibly because it comes so naturally for students and possible because there are so many good examples to choose from. There were a few passages of this book that would be so fun to use in a visualizing lesson and see how the students pictured the story. Here are three that I loved: 
  • Page 100 (when the girls first see the giant): “Boils as big as birthday cakes pocked the giant’s greasy skin. A broken nose zigzagged across his face, and one dead white eye seeped puss while the other one was lined with the crust of sleep. Hairs as thick as tree trunks jutted out of his nose and hung over a mouthful of broken, misplaced, yellow-and-green teeth.” The paragraph continues with lots of other juicy words to describe that beauty.
  • Page 143: The girls and Puck get ready to face the mysterious noise they heard in a locked room. They climb the stairs after dressing themselves in all sorts of kitchen gadgets they hope will protect them from an intruder.
  • Page 147: The detectives see the face in the mirror for the first time and stare at his “eyes like blue flames flickering a mixture of rage and disgust.” 

Mirror Mirror

Writing: My favorite thing about this series is the appearance of so many familiar characters. Similar to Shrek, it is so fun to see how characters act in new situations and interact with each other. It’s fun to think about how they have changed and what they have chosen to do with their life outside of their famous story. I would love to let students pick a character they know and then put them in a contemporary setting. They would have to think about their personality and skills and decide what kind of job he would have, who would his friends be, what are his goals, etc. Many of the animal characters have a human form in the book so students could also describe what their character looks like and how he or she acts. Students could use this as simply a character development activity or use their characters to write a new story about them. Since book one sets up the series, students could even use what they learned about mysteries to write a new story in the series by coming up with a mystery that the Sisters Grimm must solve. I bet a lot of students would love to share the mysteries they imagined up!

As a fifth grade teacher, I know we spent a lot of time preparing students to think about and write convincing persuasive essays. This novel would be a fun starter to a practice essay. Students could pick a side and answer questions such as “Is Mayor Charming a good guy?,” “Should the Grimms trust Puck?,” or “Is Jack a villain or a victim?” Students would have to pick a side and use evidence from the book to persuade the reader.

Social Studies: If you really want to make a big deal of that last question, it would be so fun to do a mock trial in the classroom. After students learn about the judiciary system, students could adopt roles such as judge, defense and prosecuting attorneys, witnesses, and jury. The class could put Jack on trial (or any of the other characters) and use evidence from the story to support their side. This would be a great exercise in debate and a chance to experience a little drama as well.

As a read aloud, class novel, or a small group book, there are many ways to enjoy and use this story in the classroom. And since it is the first in a series, many students will be motivated to continue reading on their own when you finish which is always a good thing!