February 1, 2014

Sword & Laser Kids February: Rump

The first fantasy pick for S&L Kids is Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff.

Here's the publisher's summary:
In a magic kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold. His best friend, Red Riding Hood, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse.
To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.
If you're going to join the ever-popular fractured fairy tale genre then you gotta bring something new to the table and it's probably best if you don't go for one of the most well-known characters.   I don't know how "new" this is but she definitely nails the character choice.  If you don't know the story of Rumpelstiltskin by heart, refresh yourself here.  The original doesn't really make a lick of sense but it's appropriately creepy, that's for sure.

I thought this was going to be a defense from the baddy type of thing, like Scieszka's perfectly realized The True Story of the Three Little Pigs in which we get the Big Bad Wolf's winking and smirking testimony of "innocence."  But no, Shurtliff decides to go the route of the actually innocent and maligned narrator.  She's redeeming this poor misunderstood character.  It's a mite earnest but well done.

Rump's mother dies in childbirth and only gets out the partial name of "Rump..." before passing away. He knows there's more to his name but he's stuck with "Rump" until he can figure out what to do.  He goes to live with his grandmother and is undernourished on top of everything else so is small for his age.

All the elements of the original tale are there.  The spinning of the gold, the greedy miller and his dippy daughter, etc.  I like how she makes this ability of his a curse and with it comes the need for a bargain. You have to offer Rump something for him to spin the gold.  But the catch is, you can offer him whatever you like.  You could offer him an old apple core and he'd have to do it.  "It's not like you have to offer me your first born or anything," he jokes to the frantic and humorless miller's daughter one fateful night.

It's a fun genre and Shurtliff has fun with it.  I especially like the trolls.  You know all about trolls, right?  They're big, scary, lurk around at night and like to eat people.  Except when he meets them, Rump finds out this is just a bunch of misinformation the trolls themselves have been cultivating so they can be left alone.

Most people on Goodreads like it.  Laura G. says, "Liesl Shurtliff has woven a fantastic and intricate backstory behind Rumpelstiltskin's presumably abhorrent behavior and precisely how he got his strange name. Interesting (and impressive) indeed!"  Kyle K. says, "Too often books based on old stories get lost in trying to take themselves too seriously. Ms. Shurtliff has fun, and that is why I REALLY enjoyed Rump The True Story of Rumpelstilskin." And Kristen J. says, "It deserves a place on every library shelf, bookstore and in the hands of every child who loves not only a great story, but a new twist on a fairy tale they grew up loving. And just maybe they will learn by heart the best advice the story can give: “Watch your step.”"

Not everyone is a complete fan of course.  Kat H. says, "I found myself beginning to skim the story about half-way through. The plot began to meander, and the voice seemed to subtly change. It started off feeling original and clever, but that got lost somewhere along the line.  That said, the characterization was good throughout. And I really like the pixies and the trolls. I'm sure there will be a lot of kids who enjoy this book because of the adventure and some of the silly and fun things throughout. While I wasn't blown away, I thought it was a decent read and would recommend parents give it a try for older elementary and younger middle school age kids."

Kat used the word "contrived" at some point in her review but hey, this is a fractured fairy tale we're dealing with here!  Of course it's contrived!  She's right that the characterization is Shurtliff's strongest suit in this first novel.  In a note the author tells how she had to come to terms with her own odd name as a child and the teasing that ensued.  She definitely seems to have connected with her protagonist.

I had to read this as one of the nominations for our district's Reader's Rally.  I was on the committee to choose next year's titles and I'm happy to say this one made the list.  It's going to be a treat for our readers and I look forward to more books from this author. According to her Goodreads page, she has one coming out in 2015 called Jack.  Another fractured fairy tale?  Probably.
image used with permission