The Sisters Grimm

sisters grimmAs soon as I saw the Sisters Grimm series on the bookstore shelf, I knew I wanted to read the books. Of course, as I rarely buy books full price (I have to really really really want a book with that can’t-eat-can’t-sleep-reach-for-the-stars-over-the-fence-world-series kind of feeling to buy it full price), I passed them up and ended up adding them to my BookMooch wishlist.

A few months later I was able to mooch the first two books of the series from a friend I’d made on BookMooch, wired_lain, a Filipina based in Japan, who’s been sending me a lot of great stuff, from Japanese Harry Potters for my collection to Studio Ghibli books to little Japanese snacks (sweet potato flavored Kitkat!) and other odds and ends (including a talking calculator!)

So approximately one year later, I finally got around to reading the books: Michael Buckley’s The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-tale Detectives (Book 1) and The Unusual Supects (Book 2) – Books #82-83 of 2009.

The Sisters Grimm series is about Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, whose parents have mysteriously disappeared. They are sent off to live with their grandmother Relda (whom they believed to be dead) in the town of Ferryport.

But things are not what they seem. The girls find out that Ferrytown – originally Fairytown – is home to the Everafters, or characters out of storybooks. Puck is their housemate, the mayor is Prince Charming, Sheriff Hamstead is one of the pigs in Three Little Pigs, their Grandmother’s friend Mr. Canis is the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White is a schoolteacher, and the Pied Piper is their principal. And the girls are actually descendants of the thread-spinners themselves, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm.

To keep the Everafters from wreaking havoc in the world, the Brothers Grimm enlisted the help of the witch Baba Yaga ang created a magical boundary that keeps the Everafters in Ferryport as long as there is a surviving member of the Grimm family living in town.

Together with their grandmother and their dog Elvis, the Grimm Sisters solve fairy tale mysteries involving Everafters and get closer to the key to their parents’ disappearance.

Here is a trailer of the series, from The Sisters Grimm website:

The books remind me of The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi because of the sibling action, except that the Grace siblings dealt with actual faeries rather than fairy tale characters. There is also a similar plotline about giants in A Giant Problem (Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles series) and The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives. Both series also have lovely illustrations — Di Terlizzi in The Spiderwick Chronicles, Peter Ferguson in The Sisters Grimm — that establish the atmosphere of the stop.

Storywise, the Sisters Grimm books are fast-paced and the Shrek-like premise is engaging enough, but I’m not completely sold on the series.

First, I didn’t find the Sisters Grimm very likeable. Sabrina, 12, is too angsty for her age. Sure, they’ve been volleyed around in foster homes. Sure, their parents have been missing for 18 months. Sure they’re taken in by a crazy old woman that they’ve never seen in their lives. But she has so much anger inside her than is actually believable for a pre-teen girl that she was kind of annoying. In Book 2, I find out that the intensity of Sabrina’s emotions had a significance to the plot, but that made it even more contrived for me. I think that if her character was a bit older, she would have been more credible.

Daphne, 7, on the other hand, I find to be too cute, as in Bubbles in The Powerpuff Girls. She is overly enthusiastic about their detective duties (and life in general), says things you can only describe as “precious,” and is nice to everyone except occasionally to her sister. Perhaps this is to provide a foil to Sabrina’s personality, but she’s entirely too twee for my taste.

This makes me wonder if their personalities evolve in the future.
Another thing I don’t like about the book is the vocabulary lessons sprinkled throughout the book, like when a character uses a word Daphne doesn’t understand, she has to ask what it means and it is explained to her. I find this extremely annoying because they weren’t particularly difficult words (e.g. alliance).

This “vocabulary lesson” seems to be common in children’s books these days, I also noticed this in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (which I didn’t read past the first book) and I don’t like it because it talks down to the reader and assumes the reader doesn’t know what it means. And anyway, even if the reader doesn’t know what a word means, I think that makes it too easy for them, robbing them of a more important lesson: context clues. I think with the proper context, and some creativity from the author, meaning can be more effectively (and less blatantly) established.

(And heck, when I was a kid, I would read books with a dictionary on hand to look up meanings of words I don’t understand — I distinctly remember looking up “vouchsafe” when I came across it reading the unabridged Heidi when I was seven!)

On the whole, I think the series has promise — I looked it up and there are now 7 books out in the 9-book series and it looks like more exciting things are about to happen in the next books. I do hope the characters are developed more throughout the series. While I’m not compelled to buy the books one after the other (hopefully I can mooch them), I do want to know what happens next in this series.

***
M y copy: trade paperbacks, mooched from Japan

My rating: The Sisters Grimm: Fairy Tale Detectives 3/5 stars; The Sisters Grimm: The Unusual Suspects, 3/5 stars

Every Filipino’s Lolo Jose

History was the topic of the May book discussion for Flips Flipping Pages, and because I’d been reading the novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, I chose to read a book about their author, national hero Jose Rizal. Luckily I had a copy of Lolo Jose by Rizal’s own grandniece Asuncion Lopez Bantug.

Lolo Jose (book #81 of 2009) is an “intimate and illustrated portrait of Jose Rizal,” is a one of a kind biography of Rizal, culled from the Rizal family lore and personal anecdotes. “Lolo” is the Filipino word for grandfather, and the book is entitled as such because it paints a different picture of Rizal, reminding us that Rizal was not born a legendary hero, that before he became that figure mounted in a glorious pedestal in a park now named after him, he was a son, a brother, a friend, a scholar, and a leader.

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lolo_jose_book_coverHistory was the topic of the May book discussion for Flips Flipping Pages, and because I’d been reading the novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, I chose to read a book about their author, national hero Jose Rizal. Luckily I had a copy of Lolo Jose by Rizal’s own grandniece Asuncion Lopez Bantug.

Lolo Jose (book #81 of 2009) is an “intimate and illustrated portrait of Jose Rizal,” is a one of a kind biography of Rizal, culled from the Rizal family lore and personal anecdotes. “Lolo” is the Filipino word for grandfather, and the book is entitled as such because it paints a different picture of Rizal, reminding us that Rizal was not born a legendary hero, that before he became that figure mounted in a glorious pedestal in a park now named after him, he was a son, a brother, a friend, a scholar, and a leader.

Bantug states in her introduction:

“Here is the Jose Rizal I met and learned to love from all the anecdotes told to me since childhood. Here is the Jose whom the older brother he called ‘Nor Paciano led and guided with unflagging and perceptive devotion, the “little brother” whom my Lola Sisa (Narcisa) loved with passonate unquestioning loyalty, the little playmate who was teased and ordered about on errands by Lola Biyang (Maria) and who played practical jokes on her and Panggoy (Josefa), the fond brother who shed his first tears over the death of little sister Concha. Here is the brother, now grown into manhood, on whose unfailing support Lola Lucia could turn to in times rizalof stress, who stamped his feet and almost cried in grief and frustration when he could not prevent Lola Pia (Olimpia) from dying in childbirth, who was always quick to show gratitude especially to Lola Neneng (Saturnina) and Lola Sisa who could deny him nothing. Here is the solicitous big brother to younger sisters Panggoy and Trining (Trinidad), whom he taught French and English, and to whose wise counsel they listened with respectful attention and who alternately pampered and tenderly chided baby sister Choleng (Soledad).

Here is a son, brother, uncle, mentor, friend, leader — aye, even a young, susceptible swain, always a lover of beauty in all its forms.

I want the young to know that no man is born a hero…I hope that after reading about the young Jose, their inquisitive nature roused, they will want to know about Rizal the Man and Patriot. And I hope that once their interest is stimulated, they will yearn to know more about the hero and martyr. Then they can pursue their reading to include all the well-known biographies written by our eminent scholars who present Rizal in all his different aspects. “

The book was actually first published in the ’80s by the Intramuros administration, but what makes this 2nd edition special is the visual showcase: over three hundred historical photos and reproductions. The appendices are also chock-full of important information: a timeline covering Rizal’s life (1861-1896)and beyond — when he was proclaimed national hero (1901), the Rizal Monument was unveiled (1912), and Rizal was made part of school curricula (1956); a catalog of Rizal’s artworks; important letters; a comprehensive bibliography of Rizal’s written works; a list of readings on Jose Rizal; and the Rizal family genealogical charts.

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I love this book not only because it is beautifully produced by Vibal Foundation (the first book in their Filipiniana Clasica series, which aims to uphold the continuity of the Filipino reading canon), but because it provides great insight into Rizal and reveals stories and information about Rizal that do not appear in any other Rizaliana books and writings.

Earlier, before the discussion, a few Flipper friends — Marie, Cecille, MayD, Oel, and Didi  (who is a real live princess from the Sultanate of Sulu, no kidding!) went walking around Intramuros (a walled district of Manila which used to hold the seat of power in the Spanish regime) and went to Fort Santiago, where Rizal spent his last days before he was executed.

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Rizal’s detention cell

I felt a sense of reverence tracing his footsteps (and there are actual brass footprints that mark the path), and as we went around the detention cell that has been converted into a museum about him, I was able to share with my friends some bits of knowledge I got from the book.

footprints
Rizal’s final walk

The discussion that followed in the afternoon was one of the best our book club has ever had, which is fitting, I think, as this marks our second year into our monthly book discussions. We all read different history books on a variety of subjects and time periods, and it was a lively discussion, held in a place steeped in history.

This is the last stop in my Rizaliana phase this year (I think), and it has been very rewarding. I’ve always loved Rizal — and not because he’s the most familiar hero to me because he’s a part of every Filipino’s education, although that helps — but because I really admire him for being a Rennaissance man (and I’m a sucker for overachievers), and I loved getting to know him more through his works and his family stories this year.

And, as cheesy as it sounds, he makes me proud to be Filipino. Rizal’s legacy lives on.

***
my copy: paperback (although I am drooling for the hardcover edition, which comes with the Codex Rizal, a cd-rom containing a photo gallery, the full text of Rizal’s novels and some of his works, and important writings on Rizal).

my rating: 5/5 stars

*cover photo from Vibal Foundation

Flippers discuss history!
Flippers discuss history!
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