Piper

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Piper Book Poster Image
Dark, violent retelling of creepy legend has gorgeous art.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Introductory note sketches the history of the Pied Piper legend and its 13th-century roots in the German town of Hameln.

Positive Messages

All lives are worthwhile. People can be both kind and cruel in different situations. Selfishness can skew beliefs. Teach by example, not by power. Justice is not a simple, black-and-white matter. Controlling, manipulative behavior is abusive and not loving.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Maggie doesn't retaliate against villagers who insult and assault her, though she amuses herself by making up stories in which they suffer terrible fates. She and Agathe care for each other. When the children disappear, Maggie leads a rescue. Maggie doesn't let her high hopes cloud her judgment once she sees the piper for what he truly is. The piper is attentive and kind to Maggie, honoring her dead relatives, sharing food, and helping her with chores. He rescues a man in danger despite wanting to kill him, and credits Maggie's influence. A young girl shows kindness to Maggie after seeing her insulted. A boy worries that the piper may be a bad influence over Maggie.

Violence

Bullies harass, throw a rock at a girl. A man verbally and physically abuses his son. Rats are savagely beaten by children and led to death by drowning. Character makes up revenge fantasies where tormenters meet gruesome ends (trapped boys eaten by a rabbit, a woman consumed by a tree that sprouts from her forehead, a drunken man who "pissed himself frozen"). Reference to woman who "sold herself" and passed her "shame" on to her children, who were shunned. Story of child who drowned and another who was permanently injured when bullies trapped them in a barrel. Villagers fall sick and die due to rat bites. Some villagers kidnapped, some killed by the piper. Man decapitated by waterwheel. Drunk man roughs up young woman.

Sex

Couples kiss; mention of rats "fornicating."

Language

Description -- and image -- of man who "pissed" in snow.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink in bar, joke that marrying couple might need a drink, and drink at wedding. Drunk man roughs up young woman.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Piper is a graphic novel that adds more grim layers to the already creepy legend of the Pied Piper, said to have spirited away a town's children when he wasn't paid for ridding them of rats. The piper in this version by Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) and Jessica Freeburg is vengeful and violent, killing those who cross him and trying to manipulate others to suit his needs. The villagers, for the most part, are coarse, unkind, and suspicious, and sometimes deceitful. Many bully Maggie, mocking her deafness, and she makes up fantastic stories in which they suffer terrible consequences. It's an unsettling story, but it's full of thought-provoking material on authentic relationships, healing from trauma, and choosing how you want to view the world.

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What's the story?

Maggie, a deaf outcast in a small -- and small-minded -- village dreams of being understood and loved in PIPER. She's smitten with the mysterious pipe-playing stranger who says he can rid the villagers of their rat problem. Village leaders agree to a deal but regard his entitled behavior with distrust. Maggie, used to being treated callously, warms to his attention but is slow to recognize his fixation on power and vengeful justice. By the time the piper kills the rats, village leaders complain the deal is unfair. The piper, angered, kidnaps their children. Maggie persuades him to tell her where to find the children but refuses to join him. The furious villagers attack the Piper, leading to a horrifying tragedy.

Is it any good?

The story of the Pied Piper gets a fascinating -- and sinister -- treatment in this lush graphic novel exploring themes of bullying, fairness, justice, and abusive relationships. Author Jay Asher teams up with Jessica Freeburg for this complex reimagining of the familiar legend. It's plenty creepy, and readers willing to lean into the discomfort will find an unnerving portrayal of a pathologically abusive man: The piper homes in on an isolated, vulnerable woman and charms her even as he seeks to control her. Maggie evolves from victim to hero, recognizing him as a master manipulator and standing up for kindness and compassion despite her trauma.

An introductory note on what we know -- and don't know -- about what really happened in Hamelin sets a chilling stage for what's to come. And Jeff Stokely's illustrations give the story its strange, alluring mystery with rich colors, expressive faces, and spot-on pacing.
 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the ideas regarding justice and people earning their fate in Piper. The piper and Maggie have both suffered terribly but have very different ideas about justice. Do you agree with either of them?

  • What do you think about Maggie's stories about villagers who've hurt her? Do you use fantasy as an outlet for anger, jealousy, or other difficult emotions?

  • Why do you think the Pied Piper has endured as a story told to children? How does this version compare with others you've read or seen?

Book details

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