Friday 25 September 2015

ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 25th September 2015 - "Hans Christian Andersen's The Red Shoes (and other tales)" by Hans Christian Andersen and Metaphrog (Papercutz Publishing)

A darkly tinged and stunning treatment of a classic brace of awesome traditional tales,  the mighty Metaphrog's version of "The Red Shoes" is our Book of the Week this week...

It feels weird to be typing this review in April as spring starts to warm our cockles - knowing that you'll be reading it in September as the kids are back at school, and Autumn (our favourite season) starts to wrap its dark arms around us readying us for winter. You see it's entirely appropriate that we tell you all about this utterly fantastic book of the week now for two reasons. 1) We were incredibly lucky to get a look at a very early version of "The Red Shoes and Other Stories" thanks to John and Sandra, the awesome mighty creative collective known as Metaphrog, and their publisher for this story anthology, Papercutz - a publisher well known for tackling the publication of some of the most innovative and exciting books and graphic novels out there.

Whenever you hear that someone's adapting a classic Hans Christian Andersen tale, it's always worth seeing if you can track down the original unabridged (and definitely un-Disneyfied) version of any of his stories (no mean feat, it's actually genuinely difficult to do so but there's a good starting point over at Project Gutenberg:

Metaphrog's adaptation of "The Red Shoes" follows the original storyline extremely closely, so don't expect a happy ending - in fact when I read this through myself before letting Charlotte loose on it, I wasn't really sure whether it was too dark for a 7 year old or not. Obviously it's not described as a children's story in any way but some children are definitely able to cope with darker subject matter appropriate for their age than others.

So we chose a nice sunny day, sprawled out with the book and read through together.

Those of you familiar with the tale will know that it's definitely no happy smiley affair. A young girl born to poverty struggles to help her mother eke out a living. All summer long she walks the landscape barefoot, all winter long she's forced into heavy clumpy clogs but a beloved friend makes her a pair of red shoes from scraps of cloth.

The girl loves to dance and life doesn't seem too bad until her mother dies, leaving her to be adopted by her aunt who takes her in, takes care of her and though strict and stern, tries to set the girl on the right path.

The aunt throws her home-made shoes away, but the girl longs to buy a beautiful pair of shoes she spots in a local store. Her aunt buys them, and when a mysterious (and quite horrific) shoe-shine man polishes her brand new footwear, magic starts to happen. The girl starts to dance, in fact she cannot stop dancing and after a near miss where the shoes 'dance' her into the path of a car, her aunt takes the shoes from her and firmly locks them up in a wardrobe at home.

The girl can't stop thinking about the shoes - at the expense of everything else in her life. Her aunt becomes poorly and the girl neglects her duties caring for her, all she can think about is her amazing magical dancing shoes and how wonderful it felt to dance in them. All she dreams about at night are the shoes, and the horrible mysterious shoeshine man who turns her dreams into nightmares. Nevertheless, she sneaks the key to her aunt's wardrobe, and puts the shoes on once again...

As before, the shoes cause her to magically dance, dance until she's exhausted but still she dances. Still they will not let her take the shoes off and as she dances through a local church, she realises that she's danced into her aunt's funeral and it begins to sink in just how out of control she has become because of the red shoes...

We'll leave it there, but oh boy there's a pretty heavy ending to the tale that doesn't pull any punches (not illustrated in a way that would upset your child but definitely read through first and ascertain whether it might be a bit too much for your own children).

"The Red Shoes" is also accompanied by two other dark tales, "The Doll" and "The Little Match Girl" which are again beautifully retold, exquisitely illustrated but quite achingly sad (in fact "The Little Match Girl" made me quite teary towards the end so poor Charlotte had to give me a huge cuddle to cheer me up!)

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this anthology to folk who like their stories to be emotive, sombre, almost funereal. Metaphrog have a blisteringly huge amount of talent and it's been poured into this collection with heart and gusto. Mark our words, just watch this win a ton of awards.

"The Red Shoes" is out on October 15th from Papercutz / Metaphrog.

Check out the awesome trailer for this collection below...!

Charlotte's best bit: The (slightly gruesome) solution to the poor girl's dancing shoe problem. Eeks!

Daddy's Favourite bit: Dark, mysterious, completely entrancing and easily the best adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale that we've ever seen. Fan-flipping-tastic!

(Kindly sent to us for review by Metaphrog / Papercutz)

The Red Shoes (and other tales)

Written by Hans Christian Andersen and Metaphrog

Illustrated by Metaphrog

Published by Papercutz

Release Date: 15th October 2015 (US) November 2015 (UK)