Today’s book, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, has an undercurrent of fairytale themes, and brought to mind a conversation I joined recently.
One of the advantages of living in New York City is the ability to attend Bookfest each fall. Formerly hosted by the New York Public Library, this year it was titled Bookfest@BankStreet and held at the Bank Street College of Education on Saturday, October 30th. School Library Journal was a sponsor. You can read about the event and see photos of the panels we enjoyed.
Each attendee is expected to choose a book discussion group from a list of 10. Possibilities range from pictures books to chapter books, from middle grade to YA, fiction and nonfiction. Each group is led by an expert in the field.
This year I chose “Young Adult Fairytale Retellings,” led by Karyn Silverman, librarian at Elizabeth Irwin High School (and one of this blog’s book reviewers). Karyn teaches a high school literature course on fairytales and started a webpage on the topic.
Our reading list for the discussion: Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce, and Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. (You can see all of the reading lists here.)
The diversity of this group of titles was striking. In time period, from pre-colonial India to modern-day New Zealand to an unspecified European village at the dawn of the industrial revolution. And origins, from Perrault to Maori legends to the Brothers Grimm. Honestly, our discussion made me want to take a class on fairytale scholarship.
Helen Grant was inspired to write The Vanishing of Katharina Linden after living in the German town in which she set the book, Bad Münstereifel. She incorporates local folk tales into a story that feels like it belongs in a Brothers Grimm collection.
Adult/High School–When a young girl attending a village parade dressed as Snow White vanishes without a trace, fear and suspicion lead to unnerving accusations among the townsfolk. Ten year-old Pia, in league with a fellow classmate and outcast, derisively nicknamed StinkStefan, is determined to solve the disappearance of Katharina Linden. Pia learns that young girls have vanished from the town before and begins to pursue clues that lead her deeper into danger rather than toward a solution. With a child’s imagination she begins to conflate local folk tales of witches, woe, and redemption with her suspicion that one of her neighbors is responsible for the abductions. Grant incorporates elements of fairy tales into the story, which is set in contemporary Germany. Parents and adults are either indifferent or threatening to the children who naïvely navigate their problems on their own, thus increasing their vulnerability. Part of the fun of reading fairy tales is observing how much danger awaits innocent and clever child. As Pia proceeds to investigate the dark secrets of her town, readers will feel the same uneasy anticipation they did when Red Riding Hood whistled her way to Grandma’s house. The old-world feel of the German town, with its folklore and its gossip, is an engaging and entertaining option for those who enjoy their mystery with a dash of grim imagination.–John Sexton, Westchester Library System, NY