A Tale Dark and Grimm

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
A Tale Dark and Grimm Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Exciting, funny, violent, and touching Hansel & Gretel tale.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 15 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Through the narrator's asides, readers will learn a bit about the evolution of fairy tales. More important, A Tale Dark and Grimm has an unusual story structure that deepens in complexity with each chapter. Its initial simplicity and the conversational tone of the narrator will draw readers in, while the continuing action and unraveling mysteries will keep them reading as the story becomes more layered and nuanced, providing a unique and rich reading experience.

Positive Messages

Wrapped in a fairy tale adventure, A Tale Dark and Grimm includes serious themes of forgiveness and trust, specifically on the part of Hansel and Gretel, who have been betrayed and deeply hurt (including having their heads cut off) by their parents. Despite the satirical tone of his second-person narration, author Gidwitz doesn't pull any punches. When your parents some day ask you for forgiveness, he warns, "you will probably not want to forgive them." However, he stresses (in a non-preachy way) that it's important to work through the problem. Despite the fantastical elements of Hansel and Gretel's tale, readers will come to understand that forgiveness, trust, and love are ultimately worth the hard work they require.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hansel and Gretel go through plenty of hard times, but, except for one incident when Hansel's spirit is overcome by the spirit of a magical forest and he turns beastly, they have their priorities straight: Because the siblings were hurt so deeply by their parents, they are loyal to each other above all. This loyalty and their love for each other let them overcome their hardships and give them the wisdom to help solve other people's problems, as well.


As Gidwitz explains in one of his comments about the nature of fairy tales, it's only by going through the dark that one can fully appreciate the light. Thus, A Tale Dark and Grimm runs the gamut of classic fairy tale violence, starting with Hansel and Gretel's parents cutting their heads off. When that get fixed (through magic, of course), Hansel and Gretel encounter a mother who ate her children and wants to eat Hansel and Gretel. Gretel later cuts off her own finger and meets a man who steals the souls of young girls and turns their bodies into doves. Hansel turns into a beast and is hunted down and killed, then travels through hell and sees people being tortured. It's awful stuff, but the narrator's asides make it bearable, and it's totally worth the payoff, when -- you guessed it -- everyone lives happily ever after.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that when author/narrator Adam Gidwitz warns readers that Grimm's stories are violent and bloody, and that "if such things bother you, we should probably stop right now," he's not kidding: A Tale Dark and Grimm is violent and bloody. However, in his funny asides, Gidwitz walks the reader through the tough parts, instructing them to take any little children out of the room and pointing out parts you might want to skip if you're squeamish. Many readers will take these warnings as a challenge to read on, and they will not be disappointed: This story of Hansel and Gretel brings the brother and sister alive in a way that few readers will have experienced.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byRosie B. June 6, 2017

Not for young children

This author came to my daughter's school and read a chapter from this book, when she was in second grade. That night she called me into her room to say she... Continue reading
Parent of a 11-year-old Written bykimawalker February 12, 2013

Very entertaining and, yes, gory!

My 11 year old daughters and I are reading this together right now and we are all having fun reading it. Gory, yes, but to the point of absurdity... and so many... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old May 1, 2014


I love this book so, so much. It has great messages even if it's violent. I LOVE it!
Teen, 13 years old Written byPharoah February 6, 2013

Read Aloud Book

Definitely one of my Favorites. It is exciting and funny, but at some parts a bit scary or sad. I would put the age at 9 and up, lower maybe if it is being read... Continue reading

What's the story?

Starring Hansel and Gretel but including themes from several other lesser-known Grimm's fairy tales, A TALE DARK AND GRIMM tells the story of two children who are beheaded by their parents, a king and queen. Once their heads are returned to them, Hansel and Gretel go on a quest to find parents who are worthy of them, because \"they believed firmly in their little hearts that parents should not kill their children.\" As is to be expected, they do find a house made of cake, but their adventures also extend to a stint in a magical forest, a journey through hell, and villagers who take them in but who are not what they seem. There are also riddles to solve, spells to break, and ravens who prophesy. The narrator, who often interrupts the story with conversational asides, adds just the right amount of humor to the often dire circumstances.

Is it any good?

In A Tale Dark and Grimm, author Adam Gidwitz does what fairy tales have always done: He tells important truths by wrapping them in the metaphor of an exciting story. Unlike some of the more Disneyfied takes, however, he makes sure not to leave out any of the darkness on the road to happily ever after. That's what makes this book, as Gidwitz says, "Awesome ... in a horrible, bloody kind of way." Readers familiar with the classic tale of "Hansel and Gretel" will finally understand why the children decide to return home even after their parents abandon them, as they are fully fleshed out characters with whom readers will empathize. Gidwitz's own asides add humor and help make the book an excellent family read-aloud.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the narrator's warning that the book is full of horrible things. How horrible did you think the things that happened to Hansel and Gretel were compared with some of the movies you've seen? Can books be as scary as movies?

  • Besides Hansel and Gretel, did you recognize any other familiar fairy tale elements in A Tale Dark and Grimm?

  • The narrator says you too will probably have to forgive your parents some day. Have you ever had to do this? How did it make you feel?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fairy tales

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