Once upon a time (in 1992) the Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieska and Lane Smith blew me away.
What’s not to love?
Laying into the conventions of storytelling, fairy tales and book design, playing with our expectations, with twisted illustrations that are outright anti-Disney – bring it on.
So, jump ahead 20 years and there’s Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge.
Again tales from the Grimm Brothers, Perrault, Anderson and others have been tweaked, twisted and updated to resonate with today’s high school crowd.
The Little Match Girl now sells CDs to stoners for fifty cents a pop in a bleak inner city. (No happy endings for this one.)
Red Riding Hood tells her story to her mom in modern lingo that is a hoot. Who wouldn't want to know what it’s like to be swallowed by a wolf? Well, not me but RRH does…
Anyhow we chat and he gives me his e-mail and some more insincere compliments and the next time I see him he’s in Gram’s bed and she’s, like, inside him! Wait till I tell Amber that! I am so sick of hearing about how her grandmother goes to Cabo all the time and paraglides and scubas. Those things are like nothing compared to being swallowed whole. And it kind of makes me want to know what that’s like. What? No, as a matter of fact, if everybody at my school got swallowed whole I wouldn't want to. It’s lame if everybody does it, Mom. How old are you, anyway?
A cursed prince in East of the Sun and West of the Moon is saved from marrying a troll princess by his MOTL (my own true love, in case you're wondering).
In The Emperor’s New Clothes, the little boy who saw the that Emperor run around naked after being conned by shady tailors eventually gives in so that he too ends up wearing invisible pants that he’s careful to keep from dragging on the ground because they are new and beautiful. It’s really hard to withstand the forces of public opinion.
Also included are Cinderella’s stepsisters in The Stepsisters, Rapunzel, Thumbelina, Diamonds and Toads, The Princess and the Pea, Little Thumb, Bluebeard, Rumplestiltskin, The Frog Prince and many more.
I didn't know every story Koertge included or caught all his references. For example, I’m unfamiliar with the Ogre Queen but found her story interesting regardless. Unhappy in her marriage to Prince Charming who married her for money,overlooking her predilection for eating children and she ends up running a consulting firm in Washington getting work from Congress and the Pentagon.
The illustrations are black and white paper cuts with lots of sharp angles that add tremendously to the dark, creepy atmosphere of these tales .
The tales are told for the most part as narrative verse. It’s a slim volume that is a quick read that will get under your skin in a way that Disney never could. The Stinky Cheeseman may have been a first of its kind (and definitely appropriate for younger kids, grades 3 and up) but Koertge has taken this on for the older crowd that offers new perspectives and lingers in the mind.