The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell (2014)

sleeperThis creepy, atmospheric fairy tale with an intriguing heroine is an original story that draws on the dark roots of fairy tales.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages: 69 (for ISBN 9781408859643)

Genre(s) and keywords: fairy tale, fantasy, novella, illustrated

Tone/Style: magical, melancholy, mysterious

Pace: moderate

Topics: quests, curses, sleep

Themes: choices, the passage of time

Summary: A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell – weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish.

On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Readers looking for a beautiful, artistically told tale that sets a somber and mysterious mood will love this book. The Sleeper and the Spindle is unique and thought-provoking, and will appeal to intellectual and creative readers. Fans of LGBT literature will appreciate the seamless and undramatic integration of same-sex physical contact.

Who won’t like this book?: This is more of a literary-type fairy tale adaptation as opposed to popular-type literary fiction (such as Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles), and it may not appeal to the same audience. Readers looking for adventure and swoon-worthy romance will find this story lacking. None of it is Disney-esque, including the ending. The book’s take on gender may clash with some conservative beliefs.

Other comments: This slim fairy tale looks like a children’s book, but it definitely is not. My age rating is due to dark themes and complex storytelling (and not so much to mature content, as there is little). The book combines the stories of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Check out the wonderful full-cast audiobook (but make sure to get the paper or ebook version too so you don’t miss out on the illustrations!). This would make an excellent readaloud (yes, reading aloud is good for teens too!) or reader’s theatre piece.

Sequel(s):

Readalikes: The book channels classic fairy tales in their original form; direct readers to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, and the works of Hans Christian Andersen. Readers may also enjoy Far Far Away by Tom McNeal.

-Kylie Peters

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