In the dark and twisted fairy tales of Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses, Little Red Riding Hood confesses she wants to know what it's like to be eaten alive and Hansel and Gretel's parents want to kill them. Award-winning children's author Ron Koertge and illustrator Andrea Dezso share three wicked tales from the book with PW.
Diamonds and Toads
Two sisters. Different, of course. Pretty and not so pretty. Kind and not so kind. Opposites. Antipodal. Antonyms.
Because one shares her lunch with a fairy, she is rewarded: every word from her mouth will be a flower or a precious stone.
The other is spiteful and cranky and selfish, so she is punished: every word from her mouth will be a snake or a toad.
Do you see the ending? Some nice prince gets a slot machine for a wife. The other marries a herpetologist.
Except it isn't that simple. The gift/curse can't be turned off. There's no such thing as a casual conversation:
Out come the rubies and pearls. Or the vipers and toads. Making love means scribbling notes and destroying the mood.
Rueful. Everyone is rueful, the husbands especially. At first it was fascinating. Later, not so much. And now. Yikes!
The sight of two servant girls gossiping excites those guys more than the local pornography. They start coming home late.
"Where have you been?" the sisters shriek, covering the floor with pearls or asps. The men hedge and stammer, then admit,
"All right. We've been listening to somebody else, somebody who doesn't puke every time she opens her mouth."
Next morning the men are found swollen and disfigured, with diamonds where their eyes used to be.
Forget about Little Thumb. He'll save his brothers then end up at home with the gold.
Let's think about the orge's children for a change. They had to live in the middle of nowhere because every time they moved into a nice neighborhood
some busybody found Dad's name on the Ogre Page and the protests started.
And if that wasn't bad enough, along comes Little Thumb and tricsk the ogre into cutting his own daughters' throats. All seven of them.
Okay, they were ogre children with little gray teeth, but they were kids! They didn't do anything, not really. Sure, when they played, they boiled their dolls then cut them into bite-sized pieces. But that was make-believe.
Everybody says the moral of the story is that short guys can be cunning and brave.
But I think the moral is that children pay for the sins of their parents. Ask anybody who hates to go home after school.
Ask the girl whose mother is a drunk and a whore. Ask the boy whose dad is doing twenty-five to life.
East of the Sun and West of the Moon
In the daytime I was a big, white bear, but at night I was a prince. Did that make me a bipolar bear?
It all started with a curse. (Doesn't it always?) Here are the specs: I'm going to be a bear/prince forever unless a beautiful maiden lives with me for a year but doesn't look at me while we're in bed together. One year, and no peeking!
So there we are. Sleeping. Not even first base. And she can't wait. Out comes the candle. I'm so handsome she leans to kiss me. Wax falls on my good shirt, the curse kicks in, and I'm flying.
All of a sudden I'm east of the sun and west of the moon (which is the middle of the middle of nowhere), and I have to marry a troll princess with a nose that's three feet long. Kiss the bride? No way!
But just before the wedding, guess who shows up thanks to the North Wind and a new GPS? My Own True Love (MOTL).
Now we've got a chance. Whoever can get the wax out of my shirt will be my bride. (Don't you just love a curse with an escape clause?)
As old Elephant Nose bleaches and scrubs, the spots get bigger and darker. But in the hands of MOTL the shirt is perfect. Better than new.
My troll fiancee explodes in frustration. MOTL and I take the treasure and get out of there.
I'm a king now with three kids and a spaniel. I rule in the daytime, but at night I'm just a dad who puts the kids to bed.
"Tell us a story," they cry right on cue. "The one about when you and Mommy met."
So I do. I pull up the covers and kiss their royal cheeks. I turn down the lamp and begin,
"Once upon a time..."
LIES, KNIVES AND GIRLS IN RED DRESSES. Text copyright © 2012 by Ron Koertge. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Andrea Dezso. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.