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Published May 1st 2012 by Walden Pond Press
Not a lot of fairy tale retellings take on the men in fairy tales. Or at least that's the perception. So I was excited to see that an entire series was going to take on just that - the nameless Princes Charming and who they really were. And I have to say, Christopher Healy does a good job of taking their teensy little bits of fairy tale text (Prince: dances, notices shoes. Prince: doesn't have a thing to do with story until he kisses girl in coffin. Prince: climbs strangers hair... etc.) and uses those little bits + public perception of the them to extrapolate real personas for the characters. They're really more of caricatures, actually, very funny and over the top, and all very distinct from one another. And they come alive on the page in a way I think middle grade readers will really love.
And it's not just the Princes that are brought to life and made adorably eccentric/silly/zany, etc. It was a fun take on all of the characters; the Princes were a bit bumbling, and I went back and forth with who was my favorite, while the Princesses were more heroic and daring, but also impetuous and/or sometimes bratty. My favorite, though (and this always seems to be the case) was the silly side characters - I love a good side character, and this book had lots of them. Like the Princes and Princesses, I went back and forth on who was my favorite (I mean, there's an excellent Wicked Witch, a lovably doofy giant, a hilariously tyrannical 10 year old Bandit King, etc) until I came upon the trolls. The trolls win. They are my favorites, hands down. I mean, they're all named Troll.
"Troll's name is Troll," the troll said, flashing a toothy smile. "All trolls' name is Troll." He pointed to a number of other trolls in the crowd. "That's Troll. And that's Troll. And that's Troll... All Troll."I mean, how can you not love that? I really liked Troll. (not the be confused with Troll. Or Troll.) And I liked the fact that they're not quite what you expect of them, actually being law-abiding (though odd) herbivores who are very upset by the human notion that they're brutish people-eaters. It was so fun and memorable, which is a pretty good description of the book as a whole.
[Frederic said] "This will affect all you trolls. Yes, even you, Troll. And you, too, Troll."
Once troll in the crowd leaned over to its neighbor and said approvingly, "Personal touch is nice."
The storytelling itself is charming, very exuberant and enjoyably silly. It was like reading a Pixar/Disney film, if that makes any sense. In fact, I could actually see it in my head ala Pixar - the character movements, the voices, everything. It was strange and neat, and made me thing the story would lend itself really well to film (and it's been optioned, so yay!) It's equal parts adventure and slapstick, and I think will appeal to a pretty wide MG readership because of that, especially where reluctant readers are concerned. The laughs and the antics will pull them along and make them keep reading what otherwise could be a dauntingly thick book for a MG reader. And what's nice is that it will appeal to both boys and girls almost equally, I think, and to parents, too, who want something adventurous but still wholesome for their kids.
Now this is not to say that everyone will be taken by it; I have a feeling it may not translate well for all adults. I mean, some will love it (most of my GR friends rated it 5 stars), but those that don't normally read middle grade may find it too middle grade. You have to either be a kid or easily slip into a kid-like frame of mind for it to work. It's very lighthearted, and some adults just aren't. And there were times it was a little too easy to put down. I have a feeling this was mostly just my state of mind, because I liked it when I was reading it, but it didn't make me have to read it. Some books beg you to pick them up as soon as you have a free moment, and they want to be read all night. This one I could read a bit and put it down and go to sleep just fine, but I think it was just that I, myself, wasn't quite light-hearted enough to sustain a long reading session with it. But as a kid? I would have eaten this up. (And as an adult, there were plenty of times I actually LOLed...)
I think this one is a definite to-buy for those with middle grade children or students, or neighbors, nieces or nephews. It's a great summer reading book, a great feel good, fun book, and a very nice start to the series. And to top it off, it has fantastic artwork! =)
Make sure to check out my vlogged (!) interview with Chris and the excerpt & artwork sneak peek I posted!
You can find the rest of the Blog Tour stops for Hero's Guide here, and if you want to meet Chris IRL (and get a signed book for a kid in your life), come see him at one of his author book tour stops!
And check out this clip of the Hero's Guide audiobook!