The Brothers Grimm have always been big in children’s literature, but they seem to be having a notable resurgence in middle grade right now, thanks to wildly popular series such as The Sisters Grimm, Adam Gidwitz‘s A Tale Dark and Grimm (and it’s sequels), and The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman, the first of two books featuring the awesome and enviable New York Circulating Material Repository.
Elizabeth doesn’t get along with her stepmother or stepsisters and has never had much luck in the friend department, that is until she is offered a job as a page at the New York Circulating Material Repository, a lending library of objects that range from the obscure and historical and weird and contemporary. All of a sudden Elizabeth has three new friends and a mystery to solve. Someone is stealing objects from the highly guarded Grimm Collection, containing materials such as Snow White’s magic mirror, a mermaid’s comb, and seven-league boots, to name a few.
The Grimm Legacy has two of my favourite things: a truly fantastic setting and an inventive premise. The Repository is described in loving detail by Shulman and combines the best of old school New York architecture (including Tiffany stained glass windows) and the cozy elements of a traditional library that all bookish children (and adults) love. I so badly want to work here among the hidden hallways and magical cabinets, and young readers will, too. And any author who can make pneumatic tubes cool again (both as a feature of the library AND an important plot point) is a winner in my books. The New York setting is also reflected by a cast of multicultural characters, a range often missing but needed in middle grade.
I love the inventiveness of a lending library that has magical items. This is the kind of clever ingenuity that gives middle grade a special place in my heart. Who wouldn’t want to borrow an invisibility coat or winged sandals or take a shrink ray for a spin? But it isn’t all fun and games, as some of the items are dangerous and unpredictable. I especially appreciated how the patrons (and pages) must leave a significant deposit when they borrow an item. Instead of money, you must offer something with personal significance, such as your sense of smell or first born child. This is one example of how Shulman delicately and effectively balances whimsy with consequence.
Fans of all things fairytale and other magical adventures, such as The Apothecary will love the adventures of Elizabeth, Aaron, Marc and Anjali. The Grimm Legacy is followed by The Wells Bequest, featuring another character who finds himself wrapped up in a mystery involving time travel and objects found in H.G. Wells fiction.
The Grimm Legacy is available now in paperback from Penguin Canada.