cover image The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

Vivian Vande Velde. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $15 (116pp) ISBN 978-0-618-05523-4

The eponymous problem, as Vande Velde (There's a Dead Person Following My Sister Around) explains in an author's note, is that the original fairy tale ""makes no sense."" Hence, she retells the classic story six times, creatively changing elements with each variant. What results is a charming and clever collection that explains such conundrums as: Why, if the daughter can spin straw into gold, is the miller so poor? What would an elf want with a baby? Vande Velde keeps the basic structure the same: always a miller's daughter must spin straw into gold for the king, always the claim is made that Rumpelstiltskin does it for herDor at least teaches herDin exchange for her firstbornDand ultimately someone must guess the creature's strange name to break that contract. In one scenario, ""The Domovoi,"" Rumpelstiltskin is a magical, teddy bear-like creature living under the castle basement; in ""Ms. Rumpelstiltskin,"" the titular character takes the form of an ugly and lonely witch. The miller's daughter may fall in love with the king, or with Rumpelstiltskin, and once she runs off without falling in love at all. In the closing, particularly funny version, the miller's manipulative daughter named Carleen tries to bully kindly King Gregory into marrying her. Though the opening lines feel forced (one begins, ""Once upon a time, before pizzerias or Taco Bells""), Vande Velde's takes on this fairy tale are always humorous and often heartwarming. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)