________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 7 . . . . November 24, 2006


Things Are Looking Grimm, Jill. (Orca Young Readers).

Dan Bar-el.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2006.
132 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 1-55143-400-8.

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Jonine Bergen

*** /4


Jill looked down at the letter. Perhaps if an odd little girl handed you a note from a mysterious stranger asking you to leave your home in order to save a distant land, you might take a day or two to consider it. I, myself, would have buried my head in the ground like an ostrich until the odd little girl got bored and went away.

But Jill was not like that. Jill was always up for an adventure. Life was generally too slow for her. She didn’t like chores, but she wasn’t put off by the possibility of danger.


Dan Bar-el presents an unusual twist to the genre of the fractured fairy tale by incorporating nursery rhyme characters into his tales. Author of Things are looking up, Jack, Bar-el continues the adventures of  the nursery characters, Jack and Jill in the Grimm Brothers meets Mother Goose narrative, Things are Looking Grimm, Jill.

     Jill, the spoiled, but brave sister of King Jack, has been made a Royal Guard-in-training by Sir Humpty Dumpty, the head of the Royal Guard. After receiving a distress letter from F.G., she sets off to save the women of the neighbouring kingdom of Grimm from a mysterious affliction. With the help of a new friend, Mary, who is very contrary, Jill unravels the mystery while valiantly rescuing a varied set of hapless heroines much loved by the brothers Grimm; including Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella and Gretel.

     Dan Bar-el’s style of humour will definitely appeal to children aged 8-11. All children who revel in declaring an opposite day or love to say the opposite of what they mean will delight in Mary’s exchanges with Jill. Further, readers who has added the word “not” to the end of their sentence will appreciate Jill’s conversational style.

     Though the author uses Mother Goose characters and Grimm stories that most children will know, he adds a lesser known character, Iron Hans, to the mix. By using the familiar with a touch of the unfamiliar, Bar-el successfully encourages the reader to pick up an old favourite or something new after completing this fun treat.

     Things are Looking Grimm, Jill is written at a language level appropriate for grades 3 through 5. However, the humour and characters will appeal to older readers, thus making it an excellent high interest book. Indeed, Bar-el’s choice of vocabulary is varied and fresh. His ability to weave descriptive words such as rancid, flaxen, and grizzled appropriately into his prose will expand the reader’s vocabulary painlessly.

     The black and white illustrations further add to the sense of parody of the fractured fairy tale. The illustrator, Kathy Boake, uses unusual viewpoints, heavy lines and exaggerated facial features to indicate this isn’t your typical fairy tale. The cover expressively conveys the parody and humour found inside. In fact, the cover illustrations enticed a 13-year-old to pick it up after seeing it lying on the table. Though she said it was quick read, she enjoyed the character of Jill and the mixture of Grimm and Mother Goose.

     My co-reviewer, an 11 year old girl, loved the story. She compared it favourably to Gail Carson Levine’s series, “The Princess Tales.” After reading Things are Looking Grimm, Jill, she immediately requested Things are Looking Up, Jack from the library. She has given the novel a highly recommended rating.

     This author is worth exploring for the student who enjoys fairy tales, nursery rhymes, or just a good chuckle. Dan Bar-el’s chatty asides and humorous explanations will also make Things are Looking Grimm, Jill an excellent read aloud choice.


Jonine Bergen is employed at the Millennium library and is completing the library technician program at Red River College in Winnipeg, MB.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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