Monday, March 2, 2015

Class Post - Review - "Mirror Mirror"

If you look at juvenile literature right now, you would see that fairy tales are all the rage.  Countless series and individual titles, for both children and teens, have been plumbing the depths of traditional stories to write new accounts and to bring new dimensions to existing stories.  Published in 2010, Marilyn Singer’s book of reverso verse, Mirror Mirror, illustrated by Josée Masse, was part of the first wave of fairy tale books that have changed the way we look at traditional tales.

Created by Singer, the “reverso” is a poem that is read both up and down, “especially appropriate for telling two sides of one story.”  For Mirror Mirror, Singer chose to write about fairy tales, in two different points of view.  The opening poem, “In Reverse,” explains the purpose of the style: “Who/ says/ it’s true - / down/ is/ the only view?”  In “The Sleeping Beauty and the Wide-Awake Prince,” the verse gives the point of view of both the sleeping princess, and the questing prince.  “But I have to be/ sleeping,/ never/ partying,/ never/ out in the world./ It’s no fun being/ in a fairy tale,” Sleeping Beauty says.  “But I have to be/ the prince at work,/ looking for love,/ hacking through briars,” says the Prince.  “The Doubtful Duckling” gives the Ugly Duckling two different points of view all to himself, first confident that he will grow into a beautiful swan, then doubting that such a thing could happen.  The closing poem, “The Road,” might inspire readers and listeners to go forth on their own fairy tale journeys: “this much/ I know:/ The road leads/ wherever/ you need to go.”

When Mirror Mirror was released, I had never seen anything like it, and the poetic form seemed almost like magic.  I can’t imagine the time it must have taken to craft each poem so that it comes out perfectly both backwards and forwards.  For something that one would assume took so much work, the poems read easily, as if they were no trouble at all.  The poems read out loud very well, with a largely bouncy rhythm, and are peppered with punctuation to help the reader give personality to the recitation.  The language is relatively straightforward, and the magic in it is how Singer is able to make lines mean different things coming or going.  In “Rapunzel’s Locks,” the opening line of the first poem and the closing line of the second poem is “No wonder she felt snippy.”  In the first poem, the line refers to Rapunzel’s attitude, her frustration to being trapped in the tower.  In the second, “snippy” refers to Rapunzel’s hair being cut off.

Part of the magic of Mirror Mirror is in playing with familiar stories and characters that children already know.  Even if their only experience with Snow White is through the Disney animated film, they will recognize the dwarves, the princess, the witch and the apple, and that is all they need to enjoy Singer’s poems.  In the title poem, Singer even refers to the dwarves as “Sleepy, Dopey, Happy,” names that were given to them by Disney.  Because children are most likely to be familiar with this story, they are more likely to “get” the conceit of the style and understand both poems as being different points of view of the story.  Building from this place of familiarity, Mirror Mirror also fosters empathy in the reader or listener, as it offers points of view that are often not heard in fairy tales.  In “Bears in the News,” we are given the point of the view of the three bears, whose home has been broken into and trashed by a trespassing blonde.

The layout of Mirror Mirror adds greatly to its charm.  Each set of poems is presented with a title on one side of a two page spread, opposite an illustration.  These paintings by Masse are each little works of art, featuring bold, bright colors and cleverly divided between the two spheres of each poem.  The artwork for the poem “Full of Beans” features Jack climbing the beanstalk and the giant peering angrily down.  The illustration for “Bears in the News” is particularly ingenious, featuring the same scene, the bears coming home to discover Goldilocks asleep in Baby Bear’s bed.  On Goldilocks’ side, we see the surprised young lady waking to see the shadowy figures of the bears approaching.  On the bears’ side, we see a well-dressed bear family surprised to see a shadowy figure in one of their beds.

Part of this recent trend towards fairy tales in juvenile publishing has been dedicated to hearing the villain’s side of the story.  Series like Ever After High by Shannon Hale and books like Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross offer some insight into the darker sides and characters of familiar stories.  One poem in Mirror Mirror would work very well as an exercise towards creating different points of view.  The poems “In the Hood” tell the story of Red Riding Hood, first from Red, then from the Wolf.

“In my hood,
skipping through the wood,
carrying a basket,
picking berries to eat –
juicy and sweet
what a treat!
But a girl
mustn’t dawdle.
After all, Grandma’s waiting.”

“After all, Grandma’s waiting,
mustn’t dawdle…
But a girl!
What a treat –
juicy and sweet,
picking berries to eat,
carrying a basket,
skipping through the wood
in my ‘hood.”

While constructing a reservo poem might be a bit much to ask on the fly, a group poem is great fun and requires imagination and teamwork.   The group should select a familiar fairy tale and identify two opposite forces in it, such as Red and the Wolf, and then person by person, line by line, construct two poems telling both sides of the story.  I have done something similar to this with one of my groups at the library, wherein my patrons created a funny and heartbreaking backstory for Mother Gothel, the witch from “Rapunzel.”

Singer, Marilyn.  Mirror Mirror.  Illustrated by Josée Masse.  New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2010.  ISBN: 9780525479017

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